Technology throws wide open the door to the world of art. Those who would never have had the access to tools of creation just a few decades ago now do, says Brian Smith, VR specialist and director of the SCU Imaginarium. Donning a headset and using touch controllers to “sculpt” in another dimension what appears to be an elephant head with the VR tool Quill, Smith says, “I do one virtual painting a day whereas if I was painting in oil, it would take me forever.”
Plus, these tools eliminate at least the immediate need for a physical medium, which can be hard to work with, expensive, and time-consuming. Imagine sculpting a life-sized elephant head out of clay. In this way, VR and other computer tools free up the artist to be more creative, to dare to imagine the previously impossible. “If you spend your life making one masterpiece song or painting, I’m not sure what that’s accomplishing,” Smith says, seemingly forgetting that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel for years and sculpted the Pietà without the use of VR. “Using these tools helps you explore more.”
Still, he’s not wrong about the empowerment that accompanies the technological democratization of artistic tools once only available to artists with a capital A.
It’s early photography all over again. The second version of the Brownie, introduced in 1901, produced decent snapshots and cost $2. Suddenly, everyone could make photography, whether or not they had training or “an eye” for it. Today, cameras have been replaced with the smartphone and anyone can make a pretty good photo, thanks to easy-to-use, built-in filters.
As AI has revolutionized and leveled the playing field, humans will inevitably ask “Is it going to change our perception of [an] art form? Are we going to start rethinking the value of it?” asks David Ayman Shamma, a Bay Area computer scientist who served as director of research at Yahoo! Labs and Flickr.
When creativity is democratized, what becomes of talent—or, rather, our perception of it? If we’ve arrived in a world where anyone can take a decent photo, or write a song, or sculpt an elephant head in a virtual world, will the next Beethoven or Van Gogh find the footing to rise above?