Art and Design Creation Enabled by Technology

Art vs. Design

Art is not media bound. It matters not whether a creation comes from spray cans, found objects, sculpted from clay, chipped out of marble, or painted with secret formula pigments. Art is the transformation of a thought or individual vision, expressed in forms to be experienced by others. Some art is intentionally fleeting, to be experienced in the moment that is lost to time. Other forms are permanent, to transcend the ages. Some art is heavily contextual, some dated, and some transcendent, changing in meaning and perceived value over time. It is all art. It is all creative expression.

Every stage of human artistic development has been boosted by the simultaneous development of enabling technology. In some cases, the artist themselves were the innovators, in others, artists are the benefactors of technology that emerged for other purposes. Early painters utilized paints of their own creation, where modern artists utilize a plethora of manufactured medium with which to express themselves. The art is not diminished, and the ability to create is enhanced by this transformation. Early sculptors chipped away at marble they sourced from quarries engaged in building architecture, or shaped clay taken from river beds or headed to brick factories, or cast bronze from the same processes and materials used for architectural metalwork. Today, sculpting comes in every imaginable form, using materials and technologies from the past, the present, and in the case of some, the near future. The introduction of the computer has opened doors into new realm of art – including digital works that exist only as data and projected pixels, art headed to any number of printing processes, and now three dimensional art directly from data using 3D printers.

There is differentiation between art and design. Design – whether it be Graphic or Industrial – is creative and artistic, but has a purpose, a determined value to be delivered. In this, Design seeks to first identify the need of the viewer (read “customer”) community, then deploy an end product to satisfy the intended number of viewers in a way that produces a commercial sales result. In this, the Viewer is the priority in which the Designer intends to serve. The Designer focuses every effort on the attempt to produce a clear understanding of the product created, in order to produce the most universal acceptance by the target audience (read “Customer”.)

Art is not as focused on an identified audience or viewer. Art places the artist as a singularity. The expression is controlled by how the artist perceives the world, and how they wish to express themselves to it. The artist presents their vision, with the assumption that few will truly understand what they see. They accept and expect that interpretation and perception will result in individual response – that cause a variability of value perception – that may not align or agree with the original intent. The artist judges their work on their own terms, not in terms of acceptance by an audience of scale. Artists do tend to migrate toward creating more work that realize sales success, as eating and having capital to invest in further works is a necessity. Successful acceptance, whether in the form of purchases or commissions for special work, does influences the artists behavior – but it is not the sole reason they pursue their work. Some even reject approval and pursue contrarian expression as a mode of their approach. Most continue to create in the areas that provide them the greatest latitude and opportunity to continue to pursue their work on their own terms.

Commissioned art is an interesting combination of Design and Art. Where the commission is secured on a general premise, or intent, with no limit to expression or other characteristic of the final work, it remains art – as a pre-sold work committed to in advance by a patron. Commissioned work that carries with it direction as to form, or theme, or other creatively limiting parameters, while allowing the artist latitude to interpret and add their voice to the end product is a hybrid of Design and Art, but still generally a form of art, as the artist remains in majority control of the end product. Commissions that define parameters of composition, coloration, shape, message to be conveyed, or other strict guideline determined and issued to the “artist” as direction for the final product, with minimal latitude for the artist to add their voice or express individual thought, is commercial Design. This does not mean that the product is less creative or less important, or even less valuable. For some, having a specific artist create to suit a specific purpose, may be more valuable than purchasing one-off works that are less than satisfying personally.

My Approach

I call myself and Artist, based on my approach of creating objects without a specific customer in mind, to express my individual perception or thought. While I may theme designs around a perception of a potential viewer, such as expression architectural design in a way that I believe a fan or, or practitioner of architecture might appreciate – the actual work created is more of my own vision of architecture than it is about others. The same applies to the more abstract expressions, as well as those that are more toy-like. I create based on what I feel compelled to create. I enjoy architecture (and its process of creation), I love toys, I am an auto enthusiast, I have decades of experience in lighting from application to what I do now, and I enjoy making things that are physical and three dimensional. The process of converting an idea into tangible works is what drives me.

Having said this, I also enjoy direct interaction with customers. When I was a practicing Lighting Design Consultant, being involved in the team of architect, interior designer and owner was exciting and satisfying. As a product designer, I enjoyed working with customers, sales members, and company leaders. Today, I enjoy the same interaction when asked to create a piece or series for a customer – which can include owners directly, interior designers, architects, or product makers. The interaction and opportunity to hear other’s views, experience their vision, and being allowed to participate in realizing that, while contributing to it, is still as exciting today as it was 40 years ago. I have also enjoyed experiences where my role as artist was set aside to participate as designer, to execute the vision and intent of others, by applying the craft I have developed over the years to deliver a product that met their needs.

For me, creating work that expresses, using tools I enjoy working with, to craft objects that can be touched, viewed, and/or used for some practical purpose, is what I wake up each day for. Oh yes, I do like writing a bit too, another form of expression.

The Role of Technology

I find the advancement of technology fascinating and endeavor to have a hand in it where it suits my purposes. The idea that I can now process a creative thought through software, that can than be processed through a machine that will make a physical object directly from a file created, is an amazing addition. Having grown up before computers, where drawings were made on paper with pencil or ink, to be translated by a third party over many weeks time, to produce a compromised end result – 3D Printing is nearly magic. Caving shapes from wood, metal or plastic by hand, or with machines of limited capability, have always limited the ability to express and create. Many sculptural artists spend more time fussing with process than they do concept development. Technology improves this, in providing short cuts through processes that are meaningless to realizing the vision.

3D printing can be used to create a finished work, to make a pattern for casting, a mold for injecting, a block for forming, or just provide a physical model for evaluation in development of an end product – regardless of how it is made. 3D Printing will continue to grow as a mainstream method of design, art, and production, as its ability to rapidly produce a finished work, with none of the interpretive and expensive middle steps, is unprecedented.

Solid modeling software now allows artists and designers alike, the capacity to iterate freely, to experiment, to rework, to explore and create, in ways that the days of drawings and paper simply were inadequate to support. I evolved through the days of hand sketches using markers, where iterations meant piles of onion skins of cartoonish impressions of ideas, rarely well scaled. With solid modeling, there are not piles of paper, spent markers, or sore fingers. I often explore dozens of iterations, each in scale and in context, before discovering the one I pursue to physical model. The removal of the uncertainty of scale from a cartoon sketch, and the inaccuracy of these crude drawing forms, is erased.

Overcoming Resistance to Change and Adoption of Technology

I admit that it took some time to convert to this view. My original reaction was that technology stands between the artist and the craft of their work. That use of software and machines were short cuts best left to Industrial Designers for prototypes and customer reviews. As a drawing artist, as someone who once took great pride in the application of pen and ink to express myself, even the use of Adobe Illustrator felt like a cheat.

1978 Ink and Pencil

Over time, I have found that the technologies I use today are not cheats, they are enablers. What is the value of certain crafts, that stand in the way of realizing ones vision or culmination of a creative concept? The greatest craftsman on earth can not exceed the limitations of time available, material characteristics, and tools available to them (either of their own invention from necessity or from others). Art, being a purely creative process, faces limitations by its very nature. When expression is the end goal, the limitations of the physical world often present roadblocks. To this, any technology that enables an artist to express a vision or thought, is good technology. Whether this is in the form of a pre-mixed paint in a tube, a machine that cuts wood, a hammer and chisel that chips stone, or a 3D printer that turns a computer generated image into a tangible object, it is all good.

Smart Phone Scribble Art 2016
3D Printed Halloween skull with LEDs 2010

This article is meant as an insight into my vantage point regarding the creative process, what forms it takes, and to what end it intends to serve. I have a particular interest in providing visually interesting pieces that are valued for their form and expression, using whatever means I have available to me. I have created a working environment that is built around the processes I have grown some skill in, and technology that produces end results that would otherwise make what I do virtually impossible. I call what I do art, because it starts and ends with an idea in my head, that is transformed, through my direct manipulation of materials, into a tangible end product. I also consider myself a designer, as I do take commissions, and provide contract design work that involves satisfaction of someone’s vision or idea, with varying degrees of my own personal contribution. While much of what I do involves lighting or light sources, this is not exclusive.

Side Note

I generally do not reveal who my customers are. This is based on my personal belief that my customer’s personal property is just that, personal, and that my using that for personal promotional is a violation of privacy. I have never entered an award competition, as I am uncomfortable taking credit for the composite of work of many others that make the projects or product a success. I do not reveal what design customers I have, as it is not my place to present myself as the author of their product – in full recognition that all commercial design is a team process, involving many individuals. The only products I represent as my own, are those I have authored and produced directly. I will say that my experiences in numerous ventures has afforded me positive enforcement that I have added value to many customers over the years. In the end, I am satisfied that, while this approach is somewhat limiting – as it reduces my exposure to those who can only see through the eyes of an impressive CV with a portfolio of beautifully photographed examples – I believe the customers I do attract are closer to seeing the world as I do, making the relationship that much more enjoyable. Perhaps you might be one?

I am focusing my effort on pulling together the combination of technologies and developing craft, with my personal ideas and visions. However, I also participate as a contributor or member of teams in other’s adventures in art and design. To these, I bring what I have developed in applying technology, craft and art to bear in ways that produce fresh and interesting results.

Author: kwillmorth

Photographer and Artist

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