I've been known, on occasions, to write on the inexorable march of technology and how it changes our lives, and more importantly, how it changes art. Oils made painting images easier and better. The camera did the same for drawing. The computer has made using a camera easier and better, allowing us to correct mistakes, merge images, distort images, scan images, re-colour images, or just plain draw new images. Until now, however, it was limited in its output to illuminated images on what is essentially a gussied up TV screen, or to squirting non-archival dyes onto non-archival typing paper. For the past year or two I've been predicting that art in the future would be delivered via a computer in one way or another. Well, guess what? It's happened. As with so many other bursts of technology, it didn't happen the way I figured it would, but that's par for the course. Now, tied to a computer, someone has invented a "painting machine."
The thing is a deceptively simply looking contraption that hangs on a wall and can reproduce computer images in oil paint up to eight foot square. To describe it, the best I could say is that it looks as if someone took the guts from your family ink jet printer, enlarged them about ten times, and switched the ink cartridge for five thingamajigs that zip back and forth across your canvas and squirt out paint while the canvas passes slowly beneath it like paper through a printer. It works very similar to the standard, four-colour printing (plus white as a fifth font) process now used to make reproductions of artwork except this baby does it in oils. When finished, the painting is, of course, still wet, allowing the artists of add details, brush strokes, additional paint, and presumably, once it's dry, still more paint and details.
As fascinating as is the machine, what's more interesting is the reaction to it amongst artists. From what I've seen, it's been pretty much predictable. There's the usual, and probably unwarranted angst, "Ohhh, dear, there goes my livelihood (unless I buy one of the damn things)." Another has been (in so many words), "I'd give my work away before I'd touch one of them things." Others are holding their breath, hoping it won't work, or if it does, it won't catch on. (Breathe, people breathe, it does and it will.) Others, and I guess I'd have to include myself in this group, seem to be saying, "Hmm, cool, what'll they think of next." And while I don't expect to run out and buy one tomorrow afternoon, assuming I could afford one (which I can't), I wouldn't object to having my work created or reproduced in such a manner. Will it put painters out of work? No, provided they will adapt somewhat. Will it change the way they create? Probably, if they want it to. Will it cheapen painting? Mmmmm...well, that's the hard one. It all comes down to money, doesn't it? The computer (with desktop publishing) cheapened printing. If it delivers a product largely indiscernible from traditional painting methods, economically speaking, it probably will. Technology tends to do that. But does it cheapen "art"? No way. Art is creativity (basically, try it, see if it works). This simply takes the guesswork from the brushwork and makes it "mousework." Wake up, people, the future is here! (And it squirts paint.)