Our analysis of over 30 interviews with a variety of “artist-technologists” led to a number of observations and lessons learned we want to share in this section – and we will continue to add to as our study progresses.
As we interviewed the “artist-technologists” we had selected based on our definition as “individuals working at the intersection of the arts and technology”, we realized that they presented important differences with respect to their “fluency” with art and technology, respectively, and furthermore most of them tended to identify themselves as either primarily artists who learned and used new technologies in support to their artistic creations (At’s), or primarily technologists aiming to create new technology for artistic applications (aT’s). The job advertisements for ATs we found also appeared in “artist/creative” vs. “technologist” categories. While the ATs we interviewed fell over a spectrum among At and aT, these distinctions still seem important for the field.
We saw many examples of how new technologies enabling artists to engage on their own in artistic creations that before required much bigger infrastructure and dedicated staff’s time (and, thus, funding). We believe this show AI/XR’s potential to increase access to artistic creation to a broader audience. An interviewee also shared how he used technology to overcome his hearing disability. These considerations suggest that technology can act as an “enabler” for human creation rather than a “substitute.”
There are several promising applications of AI/XR that aim to “engage” consumers/users with an art product rather than just “observe” it (examples: interactive museum pieces; “immersive” concerts, etc.). We expect this kind of application to have great appeal for future artists.
Several interviewees mentioned that, despite recent advances, AI/XR applications are not yet “good enough” to create the quality artistic products most artists look for – and until this limitation is resolved, only a few avant-garde artists are likely to pay serious attention to them. We may be still 5-10 years away from the point when quality will catch up with expectations. Big company like Google Magenta are working on this, investing a lot of resources, so we believe this kind of work would be beyond a FW-HTF research grant.
Several interviewees identify artists’ reluctance to make use of existing technologies as currently the biggest challenge – and opportunity. This is because existing tools/apps are not yet sufficiently “user friendly” to be used “fluently” in art production and performance and require a steep learning curve for using them. Artists’ lack of awareness of available tools and their potential, as well as their limited technology knowledge and skills, compound the problem. We believe there is need and value for research that addresses these issues – by engaging artists in the evaluations of existing tools to inform the creation of better interfaces, combined with educational interventions for both future and current ATs.
Most of our interviewees had unusual and non-linear paths leading to their current jobs. They also shared the challenge of finding a paying job as AT; in several cases, they ended up “creating” their own job as free-lancers or start-up entrepreneurs. This challenge was confirmed by our analysis of AT jobs currently advertised, which also showed potential issues with the language used in these ads. This calls for more research on the AT job landscape and future trends, as well as for working with HR departments in relevant industries (entertainment in particular) to craft better AT job ads.
Many interviewees worked in teams including both artists and technologists. They also pointed out that, when people primarily trained as artists try to collaborate on a project with people primarily trained as technologists, communication is often a major challenge. Not only do individuals on both sides often lack the language to effectively share their ideas with individuals with a different training, but also their “culture”/ world-view may be different.
Conversations with current ATs suggested the following key competencies as most important for their success: (a) being aware of possible integrations of art and technology in their field – in terms of both products and career opportunities; (b) having deep expertise in at least one field, along with sufficient understanding of other potentially related fields; (c) being able to learn things (especially new technologies) on their own; (d) being able to work with people in other fields and have strategies to overcome communication barriers; (e) being able to deal with failures and “unknowns” on a regular basis; (f) having a good understanding of their audience’s needs/ desires, as well as how their target audience could be best reached (i.e., distribution channels). Programs to prepare future ATs will have to address all these dimensions.
While successful ATs need to develop both specialization and breadth, it is less clear is what is the minimum level of expertise needed and what they would benefit most from knowing about areas outside of their main specialization. For example, a certain level of “fluency” with a specific technology may be necessary before one can fully capitalize on its potentially transformative power, yet being technically proficient in a new technology may be less important than being able to understand its potential applications.
Learning new technologies and/or fields on one’s own requires willingness to try out things that may not always work right away, to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes – what has been referred to as a “tinkering” mindset. This, in turn, point to the value of providing ATs with opportunities to “play together” with people that can bring different expertise to the table, whether towards the creation of concrete products or even simply trying out ideas and solutions without deadline pressures – and the earlier, the better.
Given the need for ATs to continuously learn about new technologies and fields, the distinction between preparing future ATs and current ATs already in the workplace is actually quite blurred. Therefore, when developing learning experiences for ATs, it will be worthwhile to consider both of these audiences.