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The intersection of two things I love: art and technology

  • Posted on April 21, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
The intersection of two things I love: art and technology

“The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.” – John Lasseter

Growing up, I was surrounded by storytellers. These storytellers connected me to my Ghanaian heritage and inspired me to understand the culture I had inherited. As I learned, I wondered if there was a way to share these stories with others. I discovered a way through art, and I’m working to diversify the art industry by supporting African and Diasporic artists with Odyssey Artisans. With my background in technology, I gradually realized technology has a unique relationship with art. I also began to realize that technology can be leveraged to beautifully challenge tradition. Through inclusivity, globalization, and intentional integration of technology, the art industry has been challenged to evolve.

Given the monopoly Western culture has over the art scene, it’s been a Herculean task for those outside the West to be recognized and represented. Classical European art is considered the most advanced, and therefore, superior. In art history courses, the great artists and art forms we learn about are typically European, with sparse inclusions from Latin, Asian, and African contemporaries. Such narratives, as much as they influence societal beliefs, also influence how our technology interacts with the industry.

Because art is traditionally experienced from a Western perspective, our technology learns and embodies this perspective. If you ask who the greatest artists of all time are, Google provides names like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Claude Monet, Rembrandt van Rijn and so forth. Yes, globally they’re recognized as innovators and masters of their craft, but there are other greats too. On the other hand, if you search for primitive art, search engines show you pieces from Africa, the Pacific and indigenous cultures. Search for Asian art, and pieces influenced by orientalism will appear.

It is a well-known fact that algorithms perpetuate biases. To tackle this, algorithms should be positioned for re-learning. Re-learning in this instance is imperative because art tells the story of a society, portraying society’s beliefs and desires. When we don’t acknowledge contributions from various backgrounds and cultures, which together, produce the collective human experience, it creates the impression that only certain narratives, people, and art matter. Bias is inherent in technology because it is created by people who hold their own biases, but we can overcome these biases by introducing multiple perspectives.

Today, it’s never been easier to promote art, design, and cultural experiences to the global marketplace. Empowered by the internet and social media, anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, has a chance to engage with the global marketplace through smartphones and other digital devices. Whereas previous barriers to access such as capital, social connections or geographic limitations may have kept artists from engaging with society, that has changed with the emergence of the Internet. Anyone with an internet connection can showcase their art and diversify their pool of buyers. Artists who traditionally may not have been heard now have the tools to tell their story. As a result, this means recognition and being paid accordingly for their work and talent.

While we help technology unlearn its biases, artists throughout the world have taken advantage of emerging technologies. One of the most interesting recent examples is blockchain technology. Like currency, art doesn’t require physical presence. All one needs is an internet connection and a few relevant apps to access or create a piece of art. When you purchase “digital [art] rather than physical art… it comes with a publicly verifiable record – a non-fungible token, or NFT – that ascribes ownership and authenticates a work through public blockchains.“1 Just as an artist signs his/her signature on a painting, NFTs work in the same way. It verifies the art piece and guarantees that only one copy of the piece exists. By leveraging this tool, the artist becomes immersed in the evolution.

Overall, technology’s impact throughout time and across industries is remarkable. Innovation and ingenuity have been pulled toward directions many deemed impossible. Such impact is fascinating, yet none compares to the relationship technology has with art. Perhaps my own bias is projecting, but there’s truth to this statement. No other medium truly defines the collective human experience like art. As such, technology we build must consider algorithmic biases and how they perpetuate stereotypes or harmful narratives. Unfortunately, every generation will encounter this problem but should be made to understand that with the right approach, technology can be steered towards the right direction. And as industries evolve, technology can create systems with the capability for good as seen with NFTs. Though considered uncharted territory, tools like NFTs can help redefine the narrative and tell untold stories. And as we navigate the dynamic waters of technology, let’s consider and decide how we want our collective narrative to be written.

Emaje Zakuuya

I genuinely connected with the example of art history, and how mastery is generally attached to european art whereas primitive art is generally attached to indigenous, african, and pacific art. Even in art class, it is recognized that the art form "cubism"; was inspired by african art, but professors do not point to any african artists that incorporates the same principles of cubism. Unbiasing the search terms of art masters, experts, greats definitely needs to happen I agree. To the point of digital signatures to protect the authenticity of modern art, I never thought about this or knew it was a possibility. Moving forward, I think these digital signatures will help protect african, pacific, and indigenous art from intellectual theft that has happened for centuries, and so it's great that you're supporting the Odyssey art collective. African art deserves a huge emphasis not only because of the numbers of different cultures and societies within the continent, but also because of bias in algorithms that helps disconnect people from learning more about african culture and societies. I have my own plans to solve these bias problems so it's always good to hear other people talk about it. Thank you Eunice. This was an insightful article and as mentioned earlier -- definitely well written.

May 8, 2021

Nikhil Chandy

Well written Eunice! Your writing is very powerful in showcasing how implicit bias is a common trait that unfortunately finds itself in almost every facet of life, yet you also provide solutions to this problem with real life examples.

April 22, 2021

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