Visual Arts and Technology

Many a times, I wonder whether we really appreciate or consider a technological driven creative art production as one of the finest of our time, worthy to set a benchmark of quality art for the next generation. The lines between art and entertainment have blurred so much so that such pondering is needless in differentiating between a masterpiece and a screensaver on your computer. It will also be interesting to know how some artists might feel if someone asked them for permission to use a copy of their artwork asa screensaver.  Some business minded artists may embrace the idea knowing that theycan negotiate for copyright for means of an income, whilst other puritans may refuse and argue that their artwork could lose aesthetic valueand uniqueness. Technology will convincingly expose us to art that looks like true paint brush marks on the canvas. The relationship between art and technology is nothing new in history; it took photographers a long time to develop a picture.  The creative process that involves; the adjustment of the lens’s aperture to allow the desired amount of light into the black box onto a light sensitive film, adjust the shutter speed, using of color filters and long range lenses etc, and then finally the click sound of the shutter speed at a fraction of a few seconds to be accepted as an art form. This art and technology relationship has grown over the last forty years (since 1960’s). Today to the extent that technology (e.g. Photoshop, corel and other software) can be used to create or enhance the visual quality of an artwork and also to use as a component of the final visual artwork. It is not only digital technology that one can consider.  For instance, an American artist; Robert Rauschenberg filled an aluminum tank with mud, put an apparatus underneath it to make bubbles on the mud, synchronised it with sounds played on the site (Mud Muse, 1971). That is why we can comfortably refer to our current context wherecultural, social and technological factors have proven to play a definite role. Especially, if we look at the few Namibian galleries where this art has flourished whilst it is already nurtured in many centers of contemporary artin the world. One must also acknowledge that this approach in fine art is not so widespread in Namibia, which is why art critics and thinkers are still struggling to give it an acceptable name such as “Digital Art”; “New Media Art”; “Software Art” etc. But, there are many names and many variations that are already applied on the Namibian art scene. We saw art forms in the form of installations with sound, graphics, videos, or even some combination thereof. The most recent “digital” artworks and Photographic exhibitions made me think of the conspicuous role of technology, in some of our local artists’ work, which is now overduein demand so much so that we the need to recognize the emergence of this new accepted visual form. No wonder, well-known Namibian photographer confirmed this by his recent statement: “The digital age is not only upon us, it moulds and frames us at the same time.” Anotherthing that a lot of our artists (especially the purists and conventionalists) need to contemplate upon is to review our current practice of traditional visual art forms; in its static nature. Traditionally, art is to be hanged on a wall or placed on a pedestal, and the only interaction the viewer could have with it is mental. Fear among traditional artistsis that they may lose the organic feel one has with traditional media when they start to apply software to their art.  It could be a reason as to why many traditional artists are reluctant to embrace digital art. There is amongst others also the belief that one does not have to be a talented artist in order to utilize programs like Photoshop to create great artwork. However, as the saying goes, ‘the tools do not make the artistit is the skill, the heart, the mind and the divine spiritual inspiration that makes our work special’. It also has beenproven, that with digital technology, artists are able to devise sound and light effects where the audience can see with their eyes, listen with their ears to sounds, tap along the rhythms with their feet, whilst at the same time being fascinated in an atmosphere by the colorful animated images that flicker on a screen. It has been like that for many ages before us, artists never wanted to confine art to its medium tools and surface. It began from walls of caves with prehistoric rock painting, onto stone with rock engravings, or from pencils to charcoal onto paper, and bits of paper or other elements around us, as in collage techniques and mixed media; the scope increases. And today, computer technology is no different; it is part of the progress that we have to developandexperience.  One may say that it is why some of our artists have moved fairly well in this field by developing their own websites to promote their artworks in other parts of the world.By adding text to complement their artwork, manipulating the art of narratives and creating networks; or using what has to be offered by the multimedia support at hand. Especially, the artists, with intentions of self-promotion, networking and even activism, found it a very good platform for their work; a platform where information could be distributed democratically. It was already in 1911 when Wasilly Kandinsky, with the introduction to his treatise on symbolism in color and form, wrote;"Every work of art is the child of its age" and "Every artist, as a child of his age; and is impelled to express the spirit of his age."Recent exhibitions in Namibia are already showing signs and presentations in theworks of some Namibian artists emerging as "children" of our electronic Age. Each artist employs a different approach, a different aesthetic and a different use of the computer in the creation of their art. All aimed to incorporate the dimensions of our times within our art and life. However, each of our artists need not only a mastery in whatever the medium they have chosen to use, but must be able to show a clear vision of moral and social implications in our age ofrapidly changing technology. The possibilities are about our unique abilities to employ the conventional mediums of drawing, painting or photography in our work and further enhance the esthetic and meaning of the images through the use of the computer, to create anew exciting preview of the art of the 21st century in Namibia.The recent ‘Bank Windhoek Trienalle 2011’ that opened at the NAGN is proof of the existence of such visions in some of the artists’ masterpieces on display. Whatever names we give this new trend of art games, it still remains'art', but just in a more up-to-date space and time, with both the old and new elements. It is our plight to push it further, so that our next generation by 2030 will have no reason to laugh at us and say: Look at our artists in history! They still work in “Black and White” photography and linocut prints, because they are still trapped in the “babaalas” gear mode of blaming the “Apartheid South Africa Regime” and others for their slow progress in artby 2011.  Remember, it is up to us as kids of this soil, no strangers will shed a tear at the funeral when our art dies of backwardness.