Tools and Techniques Are Part of the Message
May 17, 2016
Recently, I wrote a post about "the Intersection between CAD/ CAM and craft." With further reflection during the week along with an extended conversation on Facebook, I'm trying to add some clarity and extend the interpretation of my message.
This weekend, I was listening to the commentary from the director and crew of the movie Steve Jobs. This film was really phenomenal, just fantastic in the way it was structured in three acts! I highly recommend the film. A comment by director, Danny Boyle, offered deeper clarity about how tools and technology can be part of the message in any media.
Here is what Boyle said about his use of technology in Steve Jobs: Act 1 used 16 mm film for the "rough edge, homemade and basic." Then the 2nd Act portraying events years later used "35 mm film which is kind of liquid, beautiful, smooth and romantic. And then we shot the third act on the Alexa, with a modern digital camera which is infinite, it has infinite pixels, almost, or we are moving that way, anyway."
In other words the director intentionally used three different technologies in filming to convey a subliminal feel within the film. This level of refinement was one of many special levels of execution that elevates this film to memorable. The film technology may not have been obvious to the less knowledgeable film audience, but it was apparent in the visual quality of the film. The thoughtful use of filming technologies also influenced the meaning behind the film. Danny Boyle chose film technology to parallel the technical innovations of the decades portrayed in this narrative about technology. Genius!
For another example the music by Daniel Pemberton used the actual synthesizers of the 1970's/80's era, one note at a time (due to the limitations of early synthesizers) to create a score for Act 1, circa 1984 of the film. It's another example where the technology helped create more richly textured content.
These are examples of using technology to enrich the content of a particular art form, a movie, but I think it translates similarly to the intersection between CAD/CAM and craft in all media. A thoughtful rationale can be applied whether to use any technology, such as CAD/CAM tools, or stay within the concept of "hand made" to enrich the content.
The question is whether the tools and technologies add to or enrich the intent and appearance of the work? The deliberate choice of a technology or technique can elevate the meaning behind your work.
To make something by "hand" becomes an attribute of the work, but this attribute is irrelevant IF this is not your message. Making something by hand can be a political statement, but competing with manufactured goods that have the same look and feel is a waste of your time. Does your work look like it was "handmade?" What does that mean to you and your audience? Are you making something by hand that could be done equally well or better by machine?
Technology and "hand made" need not be incompatible. CAD/CAM is simply a tool and "hand made" is simply a technique, but tools and techniques alone do not necessarily elevate the work.
CAD/CAM may help make items at a competitive price. Commercial jewelry is often made by CAD technology, but it holds no meaning. The tool does not elevate work which is boring and meaningless and has nothing to say.
The technique, tool, or technology is effective only if it is consistent with your aesthetic or purpose. Here are two examples from architecture to illustrate effective and ineffective use of technology.
The architecture of Zaha Hadid reflects the technology that allowed her to design and fabricate her buildings.
In contrast, constructing 18th century decorative motifs with 3-D printing seems fake. It isn't that you can't do it, but it seems inauthentic. Sure it might be one way to get it done, but doesn't it feel fake?
There are many examples in the art and craft world, where the tools and technology add meaning to the work. I would love to hear of other examples that work or don't work well.
In closing, an insightful comment from writer Alan Sorkin about the Steve Jobs movie; "We invest a lot of ourselves, all of ourselves, in what we are doing, and we kind of want the world to look at that and not us."
This post was updated on December 13th, 2021.