Bridging Two Cultures: Towards an Interdisciplinary History of the Artist–Inventor and the Machine–Artwork

Simon Penny
University of California, Irvine

First presented at Refresh, Banff Center, 2005
Published in the anthology Artists as Inventors / Inventors as Artists, Dieter Daniels / Barbara U. Schmidt (eds) Published by Hatje Cantz, Spring 2008

The goal of this paper is to assert the historical validity of a consistent tradition of practice which exploits emerging electronic and mechanical technologies for cultural purposes. Due to its inherently interdisciplinary nature, this tradition can be fully understood neither within the terms of conventional art historical discourse nor within the terms of discourses of technological research and development.

It is interdisciplinary because it pursues technical research which exceeds the constraints of the objectivist-positivist pursuit of knowledge per se and likewise exceeds the base constraints of production of technological commodities for market, because it is motivated by and integrated into larger socio-cultural flows.

In truth, many of the innovations in science and technology, arose from a passionate commitment to specific causes or ideas. The drive to invent and the drive to create are, at root, almost indistinguishable. But scientists are taught to discount motivations which exceed the positivist quest for knowledge, while artists have no such constraint, and in many cases, will shun facticity as didactic...

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