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Art and technology, two strangers?

Theme of the week: art and technology

Are art and technology two strangers? On the contrary, art is nourished by everything human, including technology. Over the centuries, technology has developed slowly. In the 15th Century, Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468) invented printing, thus revolutionizing the art of reproducing texts and engravings. Around 1720, a German pharmacist accidentally invented the famous Prussian blue, which was immediately exploited by artists. Since the 19th Century, technological inventions, such as radio, photography and film, have been accelerating and each discovery is rapidly integrated into all artistic fields: music, cinema, visual arts, performing arts, animation, video games.

The impact of photography on painting

Technology has profoundly disrupted art traditions and institutions, be it in terms of creative process, dissemination or mediation. Indeed, in the mid-19th Century, the advent of photography and its "instantaneousness" shook the world of portrait painters: they were no longer the only ones who could represent reality! Their market share was strongly affected. In order to continue practicing their art and remain relevant, many painters adapted their practice to photographic processes. Some, such as Joseph Dynes (1825-1897), worked with photographers to create painted photographic portraits. Others, such as Antoine Sébastien Plamondon (1804-1895) and Eugène Hamel (1843-1932), simply used photographs as models. A few, like Alfred Boisseau (1823-1901) and Ludger Ruelland (1827-1896), would exercise their art as both painters and photographers. These examples demonstrate the close relationship that came to be between photography and painting.

Ludger Ruelland, Portrait de madame Émilie Lemieux, 1877. Photo : Ginette Clément

Eugène Hamel, Autoportrait, 1870c. Photo : Ginette Clément

Antoine Plamondon, Portrait d'un gentilhomme, 1878. Photo : Richard-Max Tremblay

New technologies and sculpture

At the turn of the 20th Century, industrialization and growing importation market compete with the work of traditional sculptors, who abandon building sites and workshops. Steamboats and their metal hulls kill the need for naval sculpture. Demand for traditional religious wood carving is declining. Mass production gains more popularity, notably with Maison T. Carli and Petrucci (1867-1923),­ whose catalogues display plaster casts that rival the sculptors' productions. In order to survive, sculptors were forced to specialize. Louis Jobin (1845-1928) and Joseph Olindo Gratton (1855-1941) started working on monumental outdoor sculpture, many of which, unfortunately, did not withstand the passage of time. Other sculptors diversified their practice by using new materials and techniques. This is the case of Quebecers Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850-1917) and Alfred Laliberté (1878-1953), who abandoned direct wood carving for modelling and casting techniques with clay, plaster, and bronze. They revisited stone, a material mainly used at the time for funerary monuments. The durability of bronze and stone allowed for the development of public art, of which Hébert and Laliberté became the two most important actors.

Alfred Laliberté, Les Chutes Niagara, 1910. Photo : Richard-Max Tremblay

Louis-Philippe Hébert, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1892. Photo : Ginette Clément

The technological revolutions of the last 60 years

In recent decades, technological revolutions have accelerated and artists have kept pace. The 1960s saw the birth of video, and the 1970s and 1980s engendered computers, but we have been witnessing a true technological explosion since the 1990s with the lightning advances in the fields of robotics, video games, Internet, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. This technological effervescence is becoming accessible and offers artists many creative avenues. In the computer age, anything is possible. Some choose to digitally model their projects before proceeding to their realization in real life. Consider the Quebec artist Daniel Langevin (1974-) who composes his patterns on his computer before transposing them on the canvas and applying acrylic paint. Far from the spontaneity of the automatists, for example, the act of painting for Langevin is the result of a chromatic calculation meticulously constructed as only a high-performance computer program can allow.

Artworks that use technology adopt countless forms and use a variety of materials. Some are relatively simple, like video projections or sound installations, such as Regard (du) critique (1988) and Femmes de toilette (1980) by Pierre Ayot (1943-1995), which are part of the MAJ collection. Other productions are more complex, such as the kinetic sculptures of Jean-Pierre Gauthier (1965-) or Hydro (2019), created by Caroline Monnet (1985-) and Ludovic Boney (1981-). Furthermore, artificial intelligence and 3D printing is now part of certain artists’ practice, like Mat Chivers (1973-) or Patrick Coutu (1975-). Creation has no limits.

With the acceleration of technological advances, it is impossible to predict the future development of visual and performance arts. History has shown how artists in all fields have always been able to defy expectations. It remains the duty of the art conservation and restoration community to meet the many challenges of preserving these works and their technological components.

Daniel Langevin, Entrave (VO), 2013. ©Daniel Langevin

Mat Chivers, Migration, 2018. Photo : Paul Litherland.

➔Visit or revisit the page of our exhibition Jean-Pierre Gauthier. The Stochastic Generators presented in 2018.

➔See the webpage of the exhibition Mat Chivers. Migrations (2018) that toured at the arsenal art contemporain in Montreal (2019).

➔Check out our recent exhibition Patrick Coutu. The Attraction of the Landscape, presented in 2019.

➔Dive back into the exhibition Of Tobacco and Sweetgrass. Where Our Dreams Are, (2019) featuring the work Hydro by Caroline Monnet and Ludovic Boney.

➔Discover or rediscover Pierre Ayot's installation Femmes de toilette presented at the MAJ in 2016-2017.

This article was written by Nathalie Galego, Assistant Curator of Collections at the Musée d'art de Joliette.

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