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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

An Artist's Relationship with Technology and Social Media

Often, technology redefines art in fresh and experimental ways. Social media posts in themselves are art. Whether it is an eye-catching graphic or a six-second commercial, it involved a creative strategy fueled by technology. What an artist imagines is itself impacted by what technologies stimulate. Not only do artists use technology to create art, but they also rely on social media technologies to boost their public profile and casually interact with their audiences. The relationship between technological advances and trailblazing artwork has been intimate despite many regarding the two poles apart.

The dominant view of technology is that it is a tool or instrument to satisfy human needs. As a result, creating art requires technology such as a pencil, paintbrush, 3D printer, or computer. German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, discusses the root of technology, techne, the arts, and the skill to make or do something, but he also observes that techne "belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis; it is something poetic" (Heidegger 4). If art is a product of human creativity (poiesis) materialized in the physical world (techne), it can alter existence. When something has both poiesis and techne, it can reveal.

Vague assumptions have meaning once technology reveals the mysterious—what we did not know before. A widely endorsed view in ancient Greek philosophy was that techne, "what craftsmen do when making artifacts is to imitate nature's craftsmanship," was considered "lesser arts" (Reydon). However, this is no longer the case. Technology enables people to participate and engage in art. It is a medium to communicate information, beauty, or emotions creatively. Heidegger writes, "Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where altheia, truth happens" (Heidegger 4). Therefore, the essence of technology is to reveal the truth. Things imbued with techne and poiesis bring forth the natural evolution of things without inventing new forms.

Throughout history, artists sought new art mediums and materials to express themselves. Today, many artists are leveraging technology's powerful artistic potential using digital photography, animation, 3D printing, manipulating sound, and virtual reality, to name a few. Creating art is not always about saving time. Instead, it is about allowing the medium and idea to blossom into fruition together. Just as the technological achievements enable innovation, it also presents new challenges.

How do we navigate the scarcity and affordability of tools? What changes to our thinking will we need to make to work with new mediums? We focus on the promise of technology's progressive nature to enable groundbreaking artists to share their innovative expressions beyond the traditional geographic boundaries. However, modern technology strays further from the beauty of existence toward mastering or manipulating.

We use resources nature creates to manufacture and reveal human-made technology. Humans imposing meaning upon the world from a subjective position is a radical shift from the ancient Greek's thinking about discovering purpose in the world. Instead of perceiving resources as an entity, how they are, we see the potential and power of what the resources can do for people. We look at how nature "belongs" to humans and see ourselves disconnected from it.

Technology and digital media are no longer "foreign lands" ready to be conquered, but rather "native territories." Yet, we feel a lingering sense of discomfort that technology haunts us. Despite the reassuring remarks about the endless possibilities accessible with technology, the image of the "technological man" sends chills down the spine (Eisner). The Deterministic Theory of Technology "is not human-controlled, but that, on the contrary, controls humans, that is, it shapes society to the requirements of efficiency and progress" (Feenberg 6). In the era of modern technology, perhaps it is the nagging recognition, which we push to the back of our minds that technology may bring forth a sense of mindlessness born from habit and conformity.

To what ends will technology automate choice away and algorithmically output relationships? Some technologies like the paintbrush or art easel magnify options and force few constraints, whereas others lean toward standardization. The concerns Heidegger expressed in his essay, The Question Concerning Technology, are with the treasures of the heart. These treasures are not money, material wealth, and status gained through technology but the inner richness and inexhaustible wisdom each person possesses. Therefore, arts and technology together serve our intellectual and social interests.

There are books and films illuminating aspects of the world, which barely had representation within society's dominant discourse before their creation. Suppose technology is an extension of our beings and will turn around and act on us. In that case, these artworks are paramount to maintaining our freedom in an age when technology allows us to let the past over-determine our present. To expand on the Substantialist Theory of Technology, Feenberg said, "When you choose to use technology, you do not simply render your existing way of life more efficient, you choose a different way of life" (Feenberg 7). Artists transformed their lived-experience and insight into art to help people see the world free from a manipulated narrative associated with acculturation. Heidegger writes, "Once there was a time when the bringing-forth of the true into the beautiful was called techne. The poiesis of the fine arts was also called techne" (Heidegger 13). Suppose humans perceive technology through an artist's lens, those who strive to see the beauty in existence and reveal aletheia (truth).

How can we ensure that technology serves our interests and does not make capital out of us? What if we do not let technology destroy us? Feenberg lays down his Critical Theory of Technology framework in which, "The values embodied in technology are socially specific and are not adequately represented by such abstractions as efficiency or control. Technology frames not just one way of life but many different possible ways of life, each of which reflects different choices of design and different extensions of technological mediation" (Feenberg 9). To create greater equity for all, the critical theory also promotes technology design, which democratizes rather than centralizes control.

There is value in thinking about the instrumentality of technology in some situations, while in others, there are reasons to think about how it acts upon us. The rapid evolution of social media's instrumentality transformed humans' modality for connection across great distances. Social media is a platform to share thoughts, ideas, and information to a large audience of virtual networks. People use this tool for entertainment, creating relationships, and promoting business in real-time. However, the Technological Theory of Determinism views social media as a driving force that shapes society and culture.

With the advent of social media, artists can share their work with the largest art community in history—the world. Many artists and organizations have seen social media increase their website traffic, promote events, and build audiences. However, as people became closer online, the platform unintentionally isolates them from engaging in genuine face-to-face conversations. In the same vein, the Substantive Theory of Technology would argue social media carries value within itself rather than being neutral.

People post and interact with social media as an extension of their beings, which turn around and act upon them. The social media algorithms impact an artists' future ability to reach and distribute their work due to optimization presenting specific types of content based on typical behavior. The content people see on their feeds may influence what they buy, eat, and desire to look like. People post what others want them to see, which shapes others' opinions even though it may not be the whole story. An artist will publish their final masterpiece on social media but will not show the trial-and-error journey or the failures, which occurred along the way. Therefore, the values people have in support of social media, like connection, knowledge, and awareness, are not always built into the platforms used.

However, using Feenberg's framework of the Critical Theory of Technology, social media is a product of the context people created it in. Who made the post? Why was it made? What was its intended impact? Values shape social media content, and its practices shape how these values get reinforced. Some people plagiarize others' work, and others argue that social media is lowering the standard for what is considered art. Not everyone will share the same interests regarding social media within a technological democratic model of control. In these ways, social media is digital technology.

The relationship between technology and art shapes, refines, and inspires contemporary work. Artists will continue to seek ways to integrate their imagination with the up-and-coming technological innovations in society's digital age. Many creatives' work would not be possible without technology as it enabled them to sever ties with the traditional and explore new grounds. Therefore, technology is not the antagonist to art but an interdependent partner.

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