Our Numbness to this Rapidly Changing World

How does a medium of interaction affect us? | Photo by Microsoft 365 on Unsplash

Inherently, we are not built to adapt to changes at the pace we are currently seeing the world move. We, therefore need to make things that slow these processes down. This would mean gradual changes that give us the time and space to develop a taste and become emotionally involved with it.

Media — An Extension of Human Beings

Whatever we see or interact with today, eventually becomes a part of us. This sounds reasonable because human behavior is designed in a way that we connect better with things that can give us meaning. Watching a movie and rating it out of 5 stars, often depends on how the movie impacted us, how it affected our thought process. For me, a very subtle form of expression is my art. Painting, drawings, sketches, everything. My paintbrush that runs on a canvas is in essence an extension of my hand because it is moving the strokes that my hand is, which is a broader context is an extension of my mind. I think my brain processes that thought into an image and it programs my hands to draw that image on a canvas.

Traditional Art | Escape | Image by Author

My experience with Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad

Marshall McLuhan explains four significant stages in the evolution of our behavior towards new environmental changes around us, both physically and mentally. The elements of that tetrad:

  • Enhancement
  • Obsolescence
  • Retrieval
  • Reversal

To explain this phenomenon better, I will use my own experience of having been an artist seeing the world slowly move from traditional art towards digital art.

  1. Enhancement: In comparison to traditional art, digital art offers portability. I may not be able to paint on a canvas in a moving train, but I am perfectly able to draw on my iPad. Painting or drawing is also technically not accessible to everyone, while digital art with the use of numerous sophisticated designed applications, is accessible to people with all kinds of physical or mental abilities. In addition to these, a key aspect is the ability to correct mistakes and complete drawings or colorings significantly faster since it is aided by algorithms.
  2. Obsolescence: With the evolution of digital art, which can be performed on the go, with higher accuracy, and with recent advancements of blockchain and NFTs, the use of traditional art is dropping. It is not obsolete yet, and people still appreciate paintings a lot, but now when we go to a design selling auction, there are numerous digital options that are sold for way higher bids. For me personally, though, this has not had a lot of impacts. I draw both digital and traditional, but
  3. Retrieval: As a source of introduction, digital art has the capability to mix different mediums of painting together. It has the technical prowess to merge art looking similar to oil paints, acrylic, or even comic strips and animations, all together into one piece.
  4. Reversal: Digital Art is convenient because of the functionality of being able to correct your mistakes. But, in my opinion, if mistakes are easily corrected we limit our creativity in trying to come up with options to improve and improvise on the drawing. So, in the process of making life easier, digital art is also in a way reversing the entire concept of art, that is creativity.
Digital Art | Escape | Image by Author

I like digital art, it allows me to experiment with different mediums, it is fancy and there are a hundred options. Having said that, there is also an alternate way of thinking about this. When I make a piece of traditional art, I make mistakes in the drawing and I wonder it would be easy to have a (Command + Z) option to just undo the error I made and give me another chance to redo the last brush stroke. That would indeed be convenient. But on the brighter side, when I know there is an irreversible mistake done, I try to modify the remainder of the painting to correct this mistake. In order to do that, I challenge my creativity, spend a significant amount of time thinking about alternatives, and finally always come up with an end result that is way better than what I had initially planned. So, the compulsion of not having an undo button boosts my work.

Perceiving the World through Interactive Mediums

If a medium changes us, the impact that it has on us is something we should try to understand as opposed to the content held within this medium.

Content of a medium is not the important part, the way a medium changes us, that’s something worth understanding.

Having been active in art and design and paintings, my friends and people who have seen my work often ask me about the trend of moving towards digital art. They want to know if I feel it is easier or in some way better than traditional art. And honestly, I do not have a black-and-white opinion about this. I feel both have different stories to tell. Something to emphasize here is that the availability of a thousand types of brushes, colors, system-aided design tools, the ability to undo mistakes, are just features that digital art offers, and are not important in this comparison. What matters most is how digital art changes us, as artists? How does it attract us towards meaningful art? How does it affect us? And most importantly, as for any art, how does it reflect on our expressions?

Conclusion

Heraclitus, very famously once said, “Change is the only constant” and that is true. Mankind has come a long way since its early inception and grows every day. We see changes around us, some affect us positively while others not so much. Through the second week of the lecture, we saw how different mediums of media and technology bring about a change in our lives and what that change actually entails. A key takeaway from this lecture for me was that we need to decelerate the pace at which we are changing because, at the moment, we are not emotionally attaching or accepting the technological changes occurring around us.

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Spandita Sarmah

Spandita Sarmah

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