Wednesday, February 4, 2015

es150115 Hacking Rembrandt 

Thanks Pablos Holman  

“We’re using the brain for the wrong things,” said Pablos Holman. It’s an important natural resource. Discovery is fundamental to innovation, and you can’t skip it. “Humans are trying to figure out how to keep more people alive on just one planet, and the only way we can do this invent our way out of this question.”
What happened to me was, in taking apart a toy truck in 1949, I discovered it was made out of an American coffee can. Probably it was part of the reconstruction program after World War II, probably the United States was sending shiploads of scrap metal to Japan and one of the cans came back and ended up under the Christmas tree.
Before long I had my truck all apart and that’s when I learned about the surprises you can find when you hack it. I took apart clocks, car engines and sometimes I’d turn parts of things into things like a crystal radio or a rocket.
“Our imaginations are not keeping up with technologies. We have a supercomputer in our pocket and we’re using to play FartAss or Dots or something,” Pablos said. “We try to take on the biggest problems we can find. We don’t need more APPs for the iPhone. What we do need is to take on the bigger problems facing human kind.”

Rembrandt was a hacker

At the height of the Golden Age of the Dutch Empire, when Rembrandt lived and worked, he was surrounded by a boom in technologies of all kinds. Not only painting technologies, which was what Rembrandt knew best, big things were happening in medicine, shipping and shipbuilding, manufacturing, optics, navigation, publishing, international trade, the sciences, philosophy and education.
He was a great painter, one of the best, but I believe his fame today owes partly to his use of the technologies of printing—or what we artists like to call, “printmaking” because we make the plate and print the plate ourselves. That’s what Rembrandt learned how to do by hacking the printing industry and doing it his way.
He took apart the process, in other words, that all the other painters were using, and made the process do things other artists hadn’t tried. Other painters were not hackers like Rembrandt—they took printing as it was and did not change anything—it was just a way to make reproductions and promote themselves.
In my humble opinion, by hacking printmaking, Rembrandt got one up on his contemporaries. When I started out in art school, I discovered that my childhood hacking days—taking apart toys and such—helped me master the technology of printmaking. Then, when video came along, I found I could hack video, too, and the same with the university’s mainframe, the mini, and the microcomputers that were just coming out.

It wasn’t programming and writing code that I needed—I just needed a different use for the computer. Like all innovative artists—like Rembrandt—we take existing ideas, technologies, ways and means to express and communicate and we see what else we can make of them.