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Art & Technology: Understanding the Value of the Artist’s Creative Process

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

By Xiaoying Juliette Yuan

Art collectors' knowledge and understanding of Art & Technology have become more and more mature in recent years. It's not only reflected in every private art museum and galleries' exhibition projects, but also in the fact that most works purchased by JY&A collectors were created with cutting-edge technologies. Since March, like every other industry, our seasonal Art Salon exhibitions have all moved online due to the pandemic. The social distancing policy has created tremendous difficulties for us to maintain relationships with the old buyers and reach the new ones. But the good thing is, in terms of displaying tech-based art, the virtual space seems to offer new exhibiting facilities.

Before switching to an art consultant, I’ve worked for fifteen years as a curator and researcher in Art & Technology. I have also collaborated with many pioneer artists across Europe and the US in numerous exhibitions, workshops, seminars, and other experimental projects. We all know that the market for tech art has always been marginal and unstable. Among the top-tier commercial art institutions, Christie's investment in supporting the tech-art and its market has been significant. From 2018 to 2020, Christie's has held the Art + Tech Summit at Christie's in London, New York, and Hong Kong on the blockchain, artificial intelligence, and mixed reality technology. It has also brought Marina Abramovic's mixed reality work The Life to the 20th Century Art Auction during Frieze London, which then toured Los Angeles and New York in 2019. Even after the global pandemic outbreak, Christie's is also the first auction house to hold online auction spanning four cities in one relay-style format to boost collectors’ enthusiasm worldwide. Seeing that the world's first-tier auction houses have invested so much energy and capital to continue to promote the collaboration of tech and art, we hope that they can successfully eliminate the reluctance to this relatively new art discipline that’s only been around for over 50 years.

Image courtesy of Christie's.

At the same time, the effort of curators from galleries and institutions is equally crucial. Only curators can faithfully record and present the artist's creative process. To those artists, the creative process is what makes it so different from any other art discipline, and it can easily make or break the ultimate presentation. Such that a single tiny alteration can completely change the final object. In other words, the artists' creative process's complexity plays both a crucial role in the status of the artists in art history and how collectors perceive the value of such works.

During the two years when I collaborated with the Streaming Museum to produce an online exhibition that shows the creative process of the American computer art pioneer John F. Simon Jr.. The following paragraphs, written in 2014, records one of my visits to John’s studio: I should have conducted a studio visit with John at the end of 2012. After numerous snowstorms in New York, we finally traveled to John’s home at Chester on a lovely sunny day. I went on the trip with one particular question in mind: how does he make the connection between meditation practice and computer software work? From far, we saw a nicely built modern architecture sitting in front of a grove, in the middle of a large piece of land covered by a thick layer of snow. Thirty feet away next to it, John took a small house as a studio for his daily meditation and artwork production. The inner space of the studio was structured in industrial style. The high ceiling shuffled by steel frames; the walls were simply painted white; the various half-carved harsh materials spread on numerous large workbenches. All gave the impression that we were standing in a factory's corner – yet clean and nicely arranged – instead of an artist's studio. A few prototypes in fragment were hanging on the wall facing the main entrance gave a glimpse of John’s new large painting in progress. One can hardly imagine that an artist would need to operate so many heavy machines to make his paintings. Some of John’s early works were made on a laser cut machine that he rarely uses today. In our conversation about his knowledge about materials, to my surprise, the artist’s selection of materials was entirely based on his sensibility in colors. “For the same color, different materials provide different density. For instance, the HDU and the foam insulation don’t provide the same white. Painting is all about colors!” No one could imagine that the artist had to undertake such a complicated and meticulous process to create his works. The process starts with a daily meditation practice that John would sit in silence in his studio, letting his unconsciousness navigate deliberately until a drawing emerges in his mind.

John F. Simon Jr., Moment of Expansion, 2014. HDU, Trupan, acrylic paint & plastic laminate. 487.68 x 274.32 x 20.32 cm. Image courtesy of Streaming Museum and the artist.

The fifteen-year daily meditation practice – unbelievable in many people’s eyes – is only the starting point in John’s artistic process. The most demanding part hasn’t even started. Every major painting starts from a sketch in his “Divination Drawings." Once the drawing is ready, the artist scans it into computers. The digitalized sketch will be deconstructed into small fragments in Rhinoceros on one computer; they will be re-adjusted, re-shaped, enlarged, and stretched from flat graphic images to three-dimensional objects of different sizes and thicknesses. Here, the artist will finalize their details, cover them with different colors, re-compose them back to the sketch, and export the completed digital drawing to Shopbot to shape the raw material into his future painting prototypes. When the artist wants to carve subtle patterns on the surface of some specific parts of the raw material, the laser-cut machine will be used. The constant shift between the Zen flow of unconsciousness and the rational computer language might be experienced continuously by many artists working at the intersection of art, science, and technology. But only a few of them can invent such a process as John's.

When I questioned the necessity of his process for the outcome, John seemed convinced that this was the only way to create works he truly wanted. Could it be any better way – a more straightforward way? John hasn't found it. Although complex and demanding, now it only takes John two weeks to a month to go through the whole process for large-scale painting at the end of so many years of practice. But how could he keep seeing the drawings emerging from his unconsciousness after so many years? John laughed and said: "I never had a problem seeing these drawings. They are always there, always different. They are just too many!"

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