How Technology Affects Art

I’ve been thinking lately about how technology affects the quality of art being made.  Now art is not monolithic.  Just because digital recording became the norm doesn’t mean that analog gear isn’t still used.  Just because photography was invented obviously doesn’t mean that there stopped being painters.  But I am talking about trends in general.

I have mentioned numerous times that I have spent a lot of time listening to The Cure lately.  I want to use two of their songs as an example.  I am going to post YouTubes, but it would be much better if you could listen to higher quality recordings to really get the details.  First I want you to listen to Play For Today from their album Seventeen Seconds, which at the time was a low budget recording (However you are listening, I would recommend headphones):

Now I want you to listen to a song called Sleep When I’m Dead from their album 4:13 Dream album.  This is a song that was written much earlier in their career, in what many fans feel was the best period of their career.  I purposely picked this song because it was written at an earlier period.  Although there are probably reasons this didn’t make a record, I wanted to get the argument that Robert Smith isn’t as good of a song writer as he used to be out of the way.  I’m not trying to talk about taste in writing or performance, merely the technology to capture each song.  (I personally like all periods of The Cure, though I have slight preferences for some.)  Anyway, here is the song:

Now it is impossible to know what creative decisions went into recording each song.  However, what is going on in each song is part of a bigger trend in music, so that I don’t think you can just base the sound of each recording to the taste of the artist.  I would also imagine that the budget was much bigger for Sleep When I’m Dead, given the fact that The Cure has gone on to be a band that can play stadiums.

On the earlier song there is much more clarity to the way it sounds.  Each instrument is discernible no matter how loud or quiet they are in the mix.  There is also much more depth of field.  When things get it seems like they are farther away.  In a lot of modern recordings when things get quieter, part of the instruments seem lost in a way that does not happen naturally in reality.  The newer song has less clarity and less depth of field, despite probably having a bigger budget for recording.  This is also despite the fact that technology has progressed.  I’m not doing this to knock later period Cure.  Too many times fans of any band develop sentimental attachments to artists that don’t allow them to view their newer work clearly.  I personally prefer the older song out of the two, but I am happy to hear any new material by an artist that I like.  Plus, there are newer songs by The Cure that I prefer to certain older ones.  It just comes down to the material itself.  However, I feel that the way the earlier material was recorded gives it a better chance of flight.  It has more sonic ambience and atmosphere in just the recording itself.

Anyway, I’m using music, but this really could apply to many art forms.  Although there are certain movies that look great when they are filmed digitally, there is something about the way film looks, which is a longer and more expensive process, that often wins out on average.  It always, at the end of the day, comes down to the choices that each individual artist makes and how they use a medium that matters most.

Technology often makes things easier and less expensive.  This is good because it allows more people to express themselves.  The downside to technology is that sometimes less of what is made, as a percentage, reaches a certain level of quality.  It is easier to record than ever before, which means more recordings are being made.  This is a good thing.  However, even average quality recordings of earlier time periods usually have a higher standard that average quality recordings today.

I’m not trying to make a point necessarily.  There are people on both sides of the argument.  Both have valid points.  I only am trying to get you to think about how technology can affect art both good and bad.  Technology in art, as it does in life, can often make things better and worse at the same time.

The Photography of Climate Change

Everyday Climate Change

Since I just put up a post about climate change, I also wanted to share a link to this Instagram page.  One of the hardest things about climate change, because it is so complex, is making it register in a visceral way.  This page features shots from photographers all over the world that have been documenting the results of climate change.  I think seeing the variety of the photographs connects in a way that no one single image can.

The Texas Hill Country, Nature Photography, and Hillingdon Ranch

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On my kitchen table sits the book Hillingdon Ranch: Four Seasons, Six Generations by David K. Langford & Lorie Woodward Cantu.  It’s a book featuring astounding photography that deals with one family’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country, but also with the larger themes of nature and conservation.  At some point I want to write a comprehensive piece on this book, but I’ve been slow to, as the visual arts, and photography especially, are not ones that I am as intellectually prepared to comment on.  Although I have some understanding of the machinations of film and television, with the other visual arts I often know what I like, but I don’t know as often how to describe it.  I am not as well versed in the technical language and the processes that go into painting or photography.

I do know that the photography in this book is absolutely stunning in the way that it hits you on an emotional level.  Langford has captured the Hill Country and the different seasons in all of their natural glory.  Anyone that has spent time in the Hill Country knows its allure.  There are many places in nature that are beautiful.  However, many places are filled with a lonesome kind of beauty, whereas the Texas Hill Country has a warm and friendly beauty to it.  There is something often comforting about it.  If you are interested in this region or photographs of Texas in particular, then I think this book is definitely one you should check out.

I think even if you are not familiar with the Texas Hill Country there are things that this book has to offer.  If you like nature photography in particular, there are many photos that look painterly in their composition.  The Hill Country has a wide ranging color palate from season to season.

I also think the book’s message of conservation and stewardship of the land are important ones to understand.  Not only is this aspect something that needs to be part of the larger environmental picture, but it is also a way to possibly reach people that might otherwise not be as inclined to act.

This book makes you see how nature is worth preserving, if for nothing else than the aesthetic beauty that would be hard to imagine living without.

The Astounding Art and Photography of Bill Lanier

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Lanier Studios

Tonight I was extremely lucky.  I was invited to photographer and artist Bill Lanier’s house to see hangings of his latest work.  This is some of the best work that I have seen in awhile.  While his stuff is based in photography, it is really more complex than that.  He takes his photographs, which in and of themselves are striking images, and has them printed on aluminum, which causes all kinds of optical illusions to occur.  At times they appear to have the depth of a holograph and at other times it is hard to tell if they are photographs or paintings.  Standing in a different light or at different angles from his work makes them take on new characteristics.  There was a picture he took of blue bonnets that looked like a painting from across the room.  When I got closer to it, it was so vivid due to the textures, that I felt as if I could almost stick my head into the photograph.  There is true magic at work here.

Most of his work features scenes from Texas, of which Bill is a native.  However, he has also taken photos of other locations as far away as Morocco.

One of the keys to his work is also that he welds and cuts his own frames.  In certain pieces this is essential as the contrast between the image and the frame adds a new dimension.

There is a lot of art out there that becomes fascinating once you learn about it.  If you are even slightly educated in painting, for instance, different pieces start to come alive as your knowledge increases.  With Lanier’s work you don’t need anything but your eyes to appreciate it.  It’s not that one can’t view it on many different levels or intellectualize it, but it is visceral enough in person that it creates a true emotional impact.

The above link will lead you to his work.  However, like most art, pictures do not do it justice.  The images themselves are powerful, but the texture of the images, due to the way that they are printed and framed, again add dimensions that are truly astounding. I can only hope that Lanier exhibits this work soon so that more people can see it in person.

How Images Can Lie

I was just updating my instagram and looking back over the photos.  I was thinking how images lie.  Although sometimes you can tell they were taken from a van window, at times it looks like I was prancing across magical fields.  Also, I only post photos I like, so one is seeing a selected view of what I have seen.  This is not to say that my tour hasn’t been nice, or that I haven’t seen a great deal of amazing imagery.  It is just that it gives one a false sense of my reality.  They don’t capture how tired I have been at times, for instance. 

We judge so many things these days by images.  I have noticed an uptick in my blog stats once I started including more photos.  An image can change our perception of a politician or a celebrity.  Plus we watch shows that claim to be “reality”, when they are highly manipulative in their edits and are often even scripted.  This is all old news. 

Another example is the less outrageous travel shows.  Heat, cold, and bugs don’t make their way into an image.  Even if they are highlighted by what an image shows or by commentary we don’t feel them.  We just see the scenery that the camera focuses on.  We rarely see the really impoverished parts of a country on a travel show. 

Also important in imagery is what is not in the photo.  The politician smiles for the camera, but do we see the protesters in the crowd? 

Again, these aren’t new ideas, but I believe they are important things to remember in our increasingly image focused society.