Here's How Modern Technology Is Revolutionizing the Art World

Today's art enjoys a medium for endless creation and could well last forever, thanks to modern technology

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When you think of Classical Greek marble sculptures, you would be forgiven if whitewashed, chipped off marbles first come to mind. You probably start to imagine somewhere along the lines of the famous Elgin marbles in their armless, headless glory, now on display in the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum. According to German Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann however, the historic sculptures were not at all that plain to begin with.

Brinkmann’s travelling exhibition, titled ‘Gods in Color’ (below), is a result of over two decades of research, featuring ancient polychromy or the brightly painted, original appearance of ancient sculpture and architecture. His studies concluded that the original statues were as vividly painted as their lives were depicted in ancient scriptures – a far cry from the ones we see in museums. Time had reduced the statues to lifeless forms of their former selves, lacking in colour as much as limb. Art wore away through the centuries because its era lacked proper measures to last the pieces through the ages.

While Classical Greek marble sculptures are at best reconstructed to mirror its former glory, today’s art would likely see a better fate. No matter its value, art enjoys a security like never before, preserved by modern technology that ensures survival beyond lifetimes. The future generations would have the luxury of admiring these historical mementos in its truest state. 

Aside from prolonging the lifespan of art, modern technology brings the advent of new possibilities. Art becomes an experience, transporting you to fascinating worlds beyond your imagination. The list is endless -- and growing -- including buildings dramatically morphing by way of 3 dimensional projections. The revolution of Art is certainly not without the gift of technology, whether it is to impart an eternal youthfulness to a painting, or to unlock an innovative medium for self-expression. Here are some ways modern technology is revolutionizing the art world:

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Preserving the Lifespan of Art

Most things in life lose lustre over time. Though paintings grow dull and sculptures chip away, modern technology has enabled art with a new lease of life, preserving the terrors of time by plunging each piece into the beauty of slow motion. Take El Greco’s Saint Martin and the Beggar, for example. The Saint Martin and the Beggar was a notable 16th century piece by the prolific Renaissance artist spanning one meter by two meters. Around the 20th century, varnish was applied to the famous painting, by then desperately in need of conservation treatment.

Video: In the Conservation Lab: El Greco’s Saint Martin and
the Beggar at the National Gallery of Art

According to the National Gallery of Art's senior conservator of paintings, Ann Hoenigswald, the varnish has begun to alter the colours with its yellowed hue.

“[The varnish] is so thick that it distorts the natural character of the paint,” notes Hoenigswald in the video. “You don't see the brushwork or the energy that was intended.”

Hoenigswald personally rolls tiny swabs of cotton on wooden picks as she cleans the canvas by the millimetre, to avoid infringing on any contrasting pigments with different solubilities. Scientists also used advanced equipment including microscopes, infrared cameras and x-rays to examine for possible damages to the original painting by penetrating outer layers of paint.

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Dr. Kenneth Suslick, Marvin T. Schmidt Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s artificial nose was created originally for biomedical purposes, though the self-proclaimed “museum hound” discovered an alternative use. While his original device was too weak to sniff out lower concentrations of pollutants that damage works of art, Suslick and a team of scientists developed a hyper-sensitive artificial nose that now detects pollutants that could irreversibly damage the artwork. The research was first presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

“Many pollutants that are problematic for human beings are also problematic for works of art,” says Suslick in a press statement. “The ability to monitor how much pollution a drawing or painting is exposed to is an important element of art preservation.”

“The high sensitivity of artists’ materials makes a lot of sense for two reasons,” he adds. “Human beings are capable of healing, which, of course, works of art cannot do. Moreover, human beings have finite lifetimes, whereas ideally works of art should last for future generations.”

Suslick is not wrong about art ideally lasting through the ages. But as tools for preservation have evolved to support more intricate works of art, at the other end of the spectrum, modern technology has also unlocked new mediums for more possibilities, added conveniences and even new ways of communication.

What's Happening Now 

New Tools to Create

Video: 3-dimensional projections on a building in Lyon, France

Imagine a building coming to life. While that is literally a far-fetched imagination, we get pretty close to this dream with 3D projections on buildings. In this video, a building in Lyon seemingly contorts and grimaces, among other expressions, in eerily human-like form. In a spectacular conclusion, the building appears to explode, before it fades dramatically to black. 

Video: Assemblance, by Umbrellium

In the past, the viewer was a passive spectator, looking at art in two dimensions. These days, art stretches beyond the proverbial three dimensions. It extends to the audience, daring them to create just as the artist has created.

“Assemblance” is one such popular London exhibit, which allows visitors to traverse through computer-controlled lasers and smoke, which in turn creates light structures. Whilst most people instinctually begin to create their “art” alone, these creations are often more fragile, breaking apart easily from just an accidental bump. On the contrary, work created through a “collaboration” which can be from simply holding hands, will produce more solid and sophisticated light structures.

The installation, by London-based Umbrellium, explores the arbitrary distinctions between body and mind, real and imagined, mine and yours. It utilizes the intangibility of the digital world, destroying just as easily as it has created. At the same time, it explores the social phenomenon between strangers from their capacity to trust to their abilities to cooperate and co-exist.

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Tailored Experiences

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Buying art has also entered a new arena. Sometimes you travel the world searching for a personal masterpiece. You might have a vision of your perfect painting, but how do you attain what you do not know exist? What if the world travelled to you instead?

MutualArt’s latest US$32 million investment aims to do exactly that, unveiling its brand new private sales service to offer specially tailored experiences. The new addition aims to bring “offline to online” in a seamless experience. MutualArt’s current database boasts access to the APT (Artist Pension Trust®) collection, with almost 13,000 artworks from 2,000 artists across 70 countries. The medium also provides the benefit of discreet sales of works from secondary markets.

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Edge of the Wood, Paul Nash, MutualArt

“The art world is often viewed as a difficult place to navigate. It's associated with a lack of transparency and it can be challenging to get a clear understanding of how artists are performing in the market, pricing and the latest trends,” Al Brenner, CEO of MutualArt tells us.

“MutualArt uses cutting edge technology to provide the data, knowledge and insights to over half a million registered members online,” he adds. “This technology feeds into MutualArt's Private Sales service, which combines data with the expertise of our art advisors, helping to match buyers and sellers with works of art around the world.Though the data service is web-based, we recognise that collectors often need to see art in the flesh before they make a purchase decision.”

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Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year, Mark Bradford, MutualArt

The deeply analytical service that MutualArt offers has not gone unnoticed. Their exhaustive online data has attracted more than 500,000 registered members across the world, who benefit from the thorough performance analysis of approximately 300,000 artists, usage data and current market trends. In return, users are provided a specially tailored match with artworks curated to their liking, based on the data accumulated. The philosophy of such a service strives to equip the art collector with the benefit of conquering the market ahead of mainstream interest.

Sending Special Messages

The internet has altered the world like never before. No longer are we confined by geography and impossible distances – instead, messages travel to us. Tales spread by mouth are now proliferated across digital mediums in seconds, spreading viral campaigns in a powerful ripple effect across the world. Art, in this sense, gets the benefit of being seen, even if half the world away.

Likewise, social media has taken over the way we communicate today, questioning age-old biases and debunking prejudices, as we try desperately hard to move towards civilization. The voice of art may create a stirring message, but the internet is what propagates it.

Video: Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign

Initially released in 2013, Dove’s Campaign for ‘Real Beauty’ became one of the most enduring marketing campaigns for its stirring message that you should be comfortable in your own skin. Long perpetuated by the media are unrealistic standards of beauty that have distorted expectations. But modern technology has instilled a metaphorical microphone to the once voiceless, encouraging the truth that one should never be ashamed of oneself.

What's Going to Happen in the Future? 

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Indeed, Art has evolved into a myriad of unrecognizable forms, in seemingly endless mediums. Each day brings a new interface, adding on to the million apps, websites and online services. The spectrum grows wider each day. While tomorrow remains uncertain, there is one thing for sure. Technology is propelling us forward, enabling us with a wider reach and bigger dreams. Can 3D printing be considered art? Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, an iconic 1888 painting, was recently the subject of Rob and Nick Carter's 3-dimensional reinterpretation of the 2-dimensional classic. The silicon bronze work, titled 'Sunflowers', was created in collaboration with MPC and is currently on display in the National Gallery, London. Artificial intelligence is no longer just a fantastical mirage from the movies; someday, we might just walk amongst humanoids who look eerily like us. Given the fresh possibilities of today, one can only wonder of the breakthroughs tomorrow's technology will bring.

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