Artifice and Design

Artifice and Design: Art and Technology in Human Experience

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Artifice and Design
    Book Description:

    "As familiar and widely appreciated works of modern technology, bridges are a good place to study the relationship between the aesthetic and the technical. Fully engaged technical design is at once aesthetic and structural. In the best work (the best design, the most well made), the look and feel of a device (its aesthetic, perceptual interface) is as important a part of the design problem as its mechanism (the interface of parts and systems). We have no idea how to make something that is merely efficient, a rational instrument blindly indifferent to how it appears. No engineer can design such a thing and none has ever been built."-from Artifice and Design

    In an intriguing book about the aesthetics of technological objects and the relationship between technical and artistic accomplishment, Barry Allen develops the philosophical implications of a series of interrelated concepts-knowledge, artifact, design, tool, art, and technology-and uses them to explore parallel questions about artistry in technology and technics in art. This may be seen at the heart of Artifice and Design in Allen's discussion of seven bridges: he focuses at length on two New York bridges-the Hell Gate Bridge and the Bayonne Bridge-and makes use of original sources for insight into the designers' ideas about the aesthetic dimensions of their work. Allen starts from the conviction that art and technology must be treated together, as two aspects of a common, technical human nature.

    The topics covered in Artifice and Design are wide-ranging and interdisciplinary, drawing from evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, and the history and anthropology of art and technology. The book concludes that it is a mistake to think of art as something subjective, or as an arbitrary social representation, and of Technology as an instrumental form of purposive rationality. "By segregating art and technology," Allen writes, "we divide ourselves against ourselves, casting up self-made obstacles to the ingenuity of art and technology."

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5826-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Art and Technology Art and Technology
    (pp. 1-8)

    There are many books about art, many about technology, but few about art and technology—about their affinity and the relationship of both together to human experience.¹ It is this relationship that is my topic here. I develop philosophical concepts of art, artifact, knowledge, technology, and tool, which I use to explore parallel questions about artistry in technology and technics in art. The result is a work of interdisciplinary philosophical research, with concepts and arguments drawn from evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, science studies, aesthetics, and the history, philosophy, and anthropology of art and technology.

    Setting my topics in the broad...

  5. 1. THE HUMAN
    (pp. 9-46)

    Part of what it is to be “philosophical” about a subject is to take a long view of it. The view from eternity, seeing the world as a fixed and changeless whole, is a traditional ideal of Western theory. I prefer a timescale more down-to-earth, one that is secular, evolutionary, and unrepentantly anthropocentric: the time since the appearance of bipedal hominids, about 4.5 million years ago; since the first species of the Homo genus, about 2.5 million years ago; and since the consolidation of the modern sapiens mutation, about 160,000 years ago. My scientific perspective is that of Darwinian evolution,...

    (pp. 47-87)

    The theory of tools and technical action is poorly developed in Western philosophy. There has been little advance over the ideas of Aristotle, which contain serious errors. Another source of misunderstanding is the “well-known fact” that lots of species use tools, especially chimpanzees. This chapter is partly a critique of prevailing ideas about tools and artifacts. I want to show the need for a new take on the basic concepts of technological civilization, including artifact, artifice, technique, and tool. One topic I will not be discussing is “modern” or advanced, scientific technology. I leave that to chapter 4. This chapter...

    (pp. 88-104)

    Tools are not as simple as philosophers and behavioral scientists have supposed. Neither is aesthetic preference as subjective and undiscussable as its detractors assume. There is more to aesthetics than the private sentiments of people’s emotional side, and there’s little that is truly arbitrary in what people prefer or respond to. Differences are only to be expected, though they are ultimately constrained by our unshakable common evolution.

    The word aesthetic comes from a Greek word for sensory perception. In philosophical usage, aesthetic signifies sensory responsiveness to things—a perceptual, felt response to what is sensibly present, especially for sight and...

    (pp. 105-149)

    Technology was sold to modern societies as a wonderful engine of progress. Allied with science it would liberate people from ignorance and debilitating labor, deepen and extend democratic participation, and make the goods of high culture (music, literature, and so on) universally available. It would do all of that not by social revolution (abolishing property or social class) but by applying the science of nature to the problems of humanity. A few prominent examples from the latter-nineteenth and twentieth centuries lent credibility to the picture, including improved public health; labor-saving devices for housework and agriculture; enhanced access to high culture...

  9. 5. ART
    (pp. 150-174)

    Billy Klüver was an electronics engineer and early laser researcher at Bell Labs. He was also the friend, assistant, and sometime collaborator of such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. He advised Jean Tanquely on his Homage to New York (1960), a self-destroying kinetic sculpture installed (for the duration) in the garden of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In the late 1960s, Klüver was a leading figure in an Art and Technology Movement in the United States, having founded (with Rauschenberg) the organization Experiments in Art and Technology (1967). The idea was to cultivate the relationship...

    (pp. 175-184)

    Artifice is older than the arts of design, the plastic arts of drawing, painting, and sculpting, but the passage through these arts (their technical problems, especially how to imitate visual cues in different media) was decisive for the reorganization of technics as an economy of knowledge. We learned what design can do for artifice. The artistic accomplishment of Upper Paleolithic cave painting (figure 1.1) is a moment of a wider technical achievement that includes the design of tools, which become at once better engineered and more appealing to vision. The result is not technology right away, though in retrospect we...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 185-208)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 209-214)