Technology & Change

The Ubiquitous Web
a digital illustration by AitchH

For those who have ever been to therapy and talked about “healthy relationships”, society’s relationship to technology is evidently not of that category.

In a world defined by the inescapable influx of info, fear has emerged as the state of “not knowing”.  Excuses for not knowing are becoming less, and so to be without data is to be incompetent. This acknowledgement admits to the unsustainable expectations placed by emerging tech and its enabling tendencies.

To many, immersive tech =  alien invasion. Mixed reality is just that. It’s a cold soup of worlds and avatars mashed into this supposed claim to the future of reality. It makes sense to fear it. It threatens the very core of existence as we know it. Its presence is a constant reminder to us all that our daily routine will soon be dramatically altered in ways beyond our control.

As future technology pushes us forward into these uncanny waters, a common reaction is to turn and cling to the comfortable conditions of the past. The past representing familiarity and this so called “hands-on approach”. This is a disaster.

watercolor, color pencil work by AitchH

A romanticized aura has formed around the “traditional” methods of work. This aura shines warmly. It is slow, patient, and trustworthy. We gravitate towards its center like moths to a light, turning back to wag fingers at those choosing to make peace with the extraterrestrials.

Many art schools are frozen in this warm glow of tradition, insistent on keeping the bloodline pure. These art schools are worshiped for the gallant decision to resist intrusion from the external world. In New York Academy of Arts, nude models and physical setups were REQUIRED for any attempt at representing  life. The use of technology such as a camera for reference imagery was unfathomable, and the very idea appalling.

What if, however, this impending integration of technology in the arts wasn’t actually new, and in fact served as the very basis for an artisit innovation of the Old Masters credited with the foundation of many art schools today?

Would this alter the confused resistance felt between new media artists and those of the fine art backgrounds?

Camera obscura from 1772. According to the Hockney–Falco thesis, such devices were central to much of the great art from the Renaissance period to the dawn of modern art.

In 2000, world-renowned artist David Hockney and an optical sciences professor, Charles Falco, explained how some of the most famous artists from the Renaissance era relied on the use of optical aids within their work.

 This exploration began after Hockney picked up on a consistently odd depiction of light within various paintings by famous artists of this time.

 It didn’t make sense he said, “the light of this chandelier is captured so precisely. It’s as if there was some form of technology used to capture a static image of the scene to be painted.” He dug deeper and soon came to the conclusion that this “boom” of hyperrealism in the 15th century was of no coincidence in talent. It was the pure product of hush hush technology discovered by a guild of artists in the 1400’s.

Artists such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Vermeer began pumping out these insanely photorealistic representations of life. Keyword: “photographic” representation. To the present eye, these paintings seem to portray an accurate perception of the world, but that’s because humans in the 21st century are used to seeing the world through a photograph. However, there are significant differences in the way a human eye sees versus the way a camera lens captures light.

In The Milkmaid by Vermeer, objects closer to the eye are out of focus. This visual phenomenom only exists in photographs. In a human’s visual field, objects not in focus do not become blurry.

Another key observation was Vermeer’s uncanny ability to capture the precise reflection of light on the chandelier. The human eye cannot capture the accuracy of light in this manner because the angle of light changes every time the eye moves.

Detail of the chandelier and mirror from Jan van Eyck‘s 1434 Arnolfini Portrait, one of Hockney’s key examples

To make this claim of fantastic credibility, Hockney and Falco used a computer simulation to mock up the exact scene from The Milkmaid. The physically accurate dimensions and proportions of this newly modelled room were exactly precise in Vermeer’s painting, concluding the chances of rendering such precision without the aid of an optical device to be a million to one.

The researchers went as far to test the theory out themselves by physically remodelling an exact replica of the scene. They then hired an untrained person to use the same technology assumed to have been used by Vermeer. The painter was instructed to recreate “the Milkmaid” with his untrained eye and hand as best as possible. The results were stunning.

The purpose of art is to reflect the ever-changing landscape of the relationship between the self and the external world. With advancements in technology comes an unavoidable expansion of the objective reality. Technological endorsement in the arts is a necessary improvement to allow enjoyers of art a still applicable and digestible reflection of the present. Of course with any new introduction of technology, there will be a hard felt factor of misuse and degradation of quality generated by the superficial obsession with the new from the young. The solution might just depend on the adjustment of the audience. The distinction of quality in the effusive atmosphere of today’s media is needed more than ever. This movement requires the acceptance of this new technology on a similar level to that of traditional media. This will initiate the process of distinction towards high and low quality in new media art. If society can begin to move in this direction, the quality of new media art might actually stand a chance.


Criminisi, Antonio; Stork, David G. (2004). “Did the great masters use optical projections while painting? Perspective comparison of paintings and photographs of Renaissance chandeliers”. In Kittler, J.; Petrou, M.; Nixon, M.S. (eds.). Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Pattern Recognition4. IEEE. pp. 645–8. ISBN978-0769521282.

 Stork, David G. (December 2004). “Optics and realism in Renaissance art”. Scientific American291 (6): 76–84. Bibcode:2004SciAm.291f..76Sdoi:10.1038/scientificamerican1204-76PMID15597983.

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