Technology: Bringing Out the Artist in Us All

By: Gary Shapiro

One of my favorite things about modern technology is the way it helps us integrate creativity into our daily lives. Of course, technology has many practical applications, but it also gives us access to great works of art, from music and movies to museum masterpieces.

Technology increasingly provides an outlet for creative expression, bringing out the artist in each of us. Far from making us “less human”—as many respondents to a recent survey suggested—today’s technology offers tools that can help us express ourselves and celebrate our creativity.

Even the pros are incorporating technology into their craft, pushing the boundaries of art in once-unheard of ways. Sculptors craft stunning, complex designs using computer programs. Painters are able to create breathtaking works using apps available on tablets. Artists are even using technology to put together exhibitions. In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City included an exhibition of works of art that could only be seen through a smartphone app.

On a more practical level, technology gives us the tools to identify historic works of art better than ever before. It can help us restore and preserve great works of art more precisely, keeping masterpieces around for future generations to enjoy. Computer imaging can help detect when a work is a forgery, to make sure we’re looking at the real thing when we visit a museum. And fingerprint technology helped experts identify an obscure painting by Leonardo da Vinci in 2009.

Performing artists are also using technology to create and share their work with audiences. Musicians are increasingly savvy, using technology just about everything, from composing to recording to distributing their work. They are especially adept at using new media to promote themselves and their music and to interact with fans. Because they can share with a wide audience without having a major record label behind them, more musicians are recording more great music than ever. Two years ago, Gracenote, a global media database, had registered more than 100 million songs from 400,000 artists, both independent and mainstream. Even dancers can use cutting-edge technology to collaborate. To take just one example, the New York City Ballet’s principal dancer, Wendy Whelan, recently told The Wall Street Journal that she choreographed her latest show with the help of an iPad.

But none of these things can compare to the degree to which technology has affected film-making. Movies are arguably the most high-tech art. Cutting-edge technology has shaped the film industry from the first film played in a theater in 1895 to “talkies” to the first color films to the jaw-dropping technology on display in movies like the recent blockbuster “Gravity.”

In addition to giving artists tools they can use to create amazing works of art, technology also gives them a platform for sharing their works with millions of people. Through the Internet, relatively unknown artists can now reach anyone anywhere in the world. Musicians, photographers, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, dancers, and all other kinds of artists can post their work online and attract fans and buyers.

And technology also brings out the artist in each of us, giving amateurs and aspiring artists the tools to express themselves and create their own art. Tablet apps help professionals and amateurs alike paint and draw. Photographers of all levels can take stunning pictures with their smartphones, or choose from hundreds of apps to turn ordinary snapshots into works of art. Smartphones and tablets even have features for recording professional-grade videos and music. And people can share their creations online and through social networks, and be inspired by their friends’ creations. Through these interactions, technology connects us with one another, making us more human. It gives all of us tools we can use to step back, look at the world around us in a new way, and express ourselves by creating something new.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), a US trade association that represents more than 2,000 consumer-electronics companies from its headquarters in Arlington. Shapiro is author of two New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. He can be found on Twitter at @GaryShapiro.