Art and Technology

By: Chad Vavra, Isobar Director, Experience Strategy & Design

Art’s purpose is to show people the truth.
— unknown

What a simple definition of art. In many ways it’s too simple, but that is probably why I like it so much. While it fails to address all of an artist’s intents, but it can still be applied to almost all art in appropriately critical ways.

As a person with a background in art history some of the ways I consider this statement is a stream flowing through a Frank Lloyd Wright house, or a cigarette butt stuck in a Jackson Pollack painting. Whether the artist is aware or not, the objects that they create expose themselves to critical interpretation of some truth. When aware, the artist builds that criticism into their process, and the process becomes as important as the final product.

Eyeo Festival 2016
I have attended all but one of the Eyeo festivals held each year in Minneapolis, MN. It is a gathering that bills itself as an intersection of art, interaction, and information and it inspires me to ask the question of art’s place in the creation of technical products.

This year much of the talks at Eyeo discussed machine learning and virtual reality. It has been well documented that this moment in time is the turning point where Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence become household words, and as a result an expectation of what media and technical products can do. It is also known that these technologies are in their earliest days.

Chris Milk discusses how early it is regarding VR in his recent TED talk.


And Nick Bostrom in his talk on AI from a year earlier


While elegant and provoking as TED Talks are required to be, both of the talks speculate — which is good, but are for me fleeting. Fleeting in that the discussion doesn’t stick with me the same way that a thing does.

What I love at Eyeo is that the artists, through the presentation of their work, expose truths about the relationship technology has with people.

Some of the speakers who addressed this where, Alexis Lloyd who showed her work and discussed the relationships people have with machines.

I believe that the trend of trying to make bot conversations human-like is simply a transitional phase as we adapt to what it means to talk to machines.

The above quote is from her piece here.

 Kyle McDonald showed us what machines are capable of and questioned the closing gap between the qualities that humans and machines can create. This included his pieces below that implement machine learning techniques to augment human capabilities.

Exhausting A Crowd

Terra Pattern

And a panel consisting of James George, Alex Porter from Depth kit. Milica Zec, Winslow Porter creators of the film Giant , and Kamal Sinclair from New Frontier at Sundance spoke about democratizing the tools to create VR and telling stories appropriate to the medium

Depth Kit

Giant Official

Sundance Institute


What place does art have in emerging technology?

Gartner has a somewhat well known graph called “The Hype Cycle” which is designed to explain the life-cycle of technology to potential markets. It does a good job of showing the roller coaster ride that most technologies and products go through when finding their audience.

Hype Cycle

Artistic explorations inspire technology out of disillusionment and into enlightenment.


“Art tells the truth”

That ‘trough of disillusionment’ is where brave artists and companies invest their time and money. They shape the way these technologies evolve by exploring what truths the medium can help them tell.

At Isobar we do this with out clients in our Nowlab where we are currently exploring machine intelligence in the form of natural language interfaces, like Amazon Alexa, and virtual environments on Oculus, Vive, Cardboard and browsers.

However you identify yourself professionally, consider how you can encourage and support art within technology.