The Future of the Visual Arts
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ABC’s Weekend Breakfast with Andrew Geoghegan
On Nov 26-28th, I will be speaking at the Creative Innovations 2012 event in Melbourne, Australia. The theme of the conference will be “Wicked Problems, Great Opportunities! Leadership and courage for volatile times.”
With over 50 key influencers from around the world on hand to inspire people’s thinking, this will indeed be a world-changing event. In fact, it will be the largest innovations conference ever held in the southern hemisphere.
Leading up to this event I’ve done a series of talks and interviews as a way to help expand people’s thinking about the world ahead.
One rather unusual interview was with The Age Magazine on the future of visual arts. Writer Michael Lallo encouraged me to go a little crazy in our discussions so here is what we talked about.
Within a year, someone will make the world’s first ”printable house”. ”It might not be a very good house but it will go down in history,” says American futurist Thomas Frey, author of the prediction and a speaker at the Creative Innovation conference in Melbourne next week. ”Eventually, we’ll be ‘printing’ 30-storey buildings – and huge replicas of, say, the Statue of Liberty to put on top.”
3D printing is the ”additive” process of layering different materials to build a product – vastly different from the ”subtractive” cutting and drilling of modern manufacturing. Such printers already exist and are improving rapidly. Soon, we will be able to design a house on a computer, hit the print button and watch it take form. ”And when you get tired of your house,” Frey laughs, ”you can crush it up and print a new one.”
The focus of our interview is the future of visual arts but, as Frey points out, everything will become a canvas eventually. Our clothes will double as video screens. We can change the pattern of our dinner plates every night. Even the doors of our cars and the walls of our houses can be altered at will: a new color, perhaps, or fresh moving images.
To discuss the future of ”painting” or ”sculpting”, therefore, is to put art in a box from which it will soon escape. Within the next decade, anyone could conceivably print replicas of the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David that are indistinguishable from the original. (”Forgery in the art world will become a massive problem,” Frey concedes.) They could also ”paint” their own masterpiece on an iPad and 3D-print it with real watercolors on real canvas, all in a matter of hours.
Beautiful paintings, therefore, will no longer depend on an ability to paint. Likewise, a tech-savvy teenager could create a statue of breathtaking glory without ever lifting chisel to rock. But how will this impact on traditional art forms and those who create them?
”To look at the Mona Lisa now, you have to stand behind layers of glass and hundreds of people at the Louvre,” Frey says.
”Soon, you can create replicas that are better than the original in some respects, like the fact they’re more durable. You’ll be able to touch them and see them up close; much better than you would while wrestling for position in a crowded museum. People could pay a lot of money for these advantages.
”Yet there remains something magical about the original and I don’t think people will stop going to the Louvre. Once you get further down the line, though, original artworks could lose their value very quickly. It will be fascinating to see how the supply and demand pans out.”
Artists, therefore, could be commissioned to create an original work – which they email to the client to 3D-print at home. Indeed, when everything is a canvas, aesthetics will become even more important. Some will relish the opportunities for self-expression; others will be overwhelmed by the endless choices this requires.
The economic impact on the design, fashion and art industries remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though: arguments about taste are bound to intensify. It’s one thing to paint your house a color the neighbors don’t like; it’s quite another to display new videos on your roof each day.
Frey believes that ”save our suburbs” committees are doomed to extinction.
”The idea of ‘this is my area and I don’t want a purple house on my street’ goes out the door with these new technologies because the rules have changed so radically,” he says.
The Pamela Anderson house facade commissioned by Sam Newman.
In 2000, former footballer Sam Newman caused a stir by building a home with an image of Pamela Anderson as its facade. What he would create if let loose with a printable house is anyone’s guess. ”People’s imagination will run wild,” Frey says. ”If everyone can put a dome on their roof or print a statue for their front lawn, then anything goes.”
Not all artistic advancements will spark heated debates, however.
Frey envisions a new style of cinema in which the audience sits ”in the round” to watch 3D holograms.
Going to the movies, therefore, will be akin to seeing a play – except the explosions, murders and sex scenes will appear disconcertingly lifelike.
This technology could also be used to bring Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain and other departed musicians back from the dead. To the naked eye, it will appear as if they are actually on stage. And that’s just the beginning of a revolution in live music.
”Flying drones are catching on crazy-fast,” Frey says. ”The advancements are being created by the military, who use them for surveillance and to kill people.”
In concerts, however, drones will project images and create extraordinary sound effects.
But could these non-lethal drones be used for more nefarious purposes – to assault us with advertisements as we’re walking down the street, for instance? Yes, Frey says, but this won’t be as bad as being harassed in our homes.
”In 10 or 15 years, you’ll be watching television. An intense pizza commercial – so good it makes your mouth water – will come on. All you have to do is give in and say ‘yes’ to purchase that pizza. Within 30 seconds, a drone will deliver it to your door with a six-pack of beer because it knows that’s what you like.”
Such scenarios can sound so far-fetched as to invite doubt. But Frey, described by one Seattle newspaper as ”the dean of futurists”, has seen suspicions about his predictions diminish as his prophecies come to pass. He foretold lab-grown meat and spherical computer displays years ago, for example, as well as crowd funding, store-branded credit cards and medically induced amnesia. And as the pace of change quickens, with most of us kept abreast of each advancement via the internet, his latest eyebrow-raising outlooks seem increasingly realistic.
In his 15 years as an engineer at IBM, Frey collected 270 awards for his designs and products. He is also a former member of the Triple Nine Society, which requires members to have an IQ above the 99.9th percentile. (Mensa accepts those who score at the 98th percentile or higher.)
Needless to say, Frey’s predictions are not the result of idle speculation. Rather, he uses several ”anticipatory thinking protocols” to analyze cycles and trends and build scenarios. These include extensive number-crunching and ”mastermind groups” with other experts and geniuses.
”You have these intensely bright people sitting around a table, one comment leads to another and it creates a synergy,” he says. ”I find these moments to be the most inspiring.”
The Future of the Visual Arts
I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.
Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away. In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.
After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.
When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.
For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.
The Risk-Averse Nature of Education
When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.
While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.
This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.
From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.
For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.
Offering Pilot Programs
When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.
Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:
- When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
- When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
- When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
- When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
- When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
- When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
- When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it
Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.
Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.
52 Future College Degrees
As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:
- Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
- Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
- Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
- Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
- Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
- Smart City – mixed reality modeling
- Smart City – autonomous construction integration
- Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
- Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
- Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
- Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
- Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
- Swarmbot – municipal system design
- Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
- Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
- Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
- Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
- Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
- Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
- Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
- Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
- Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
- Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
- Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
- Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
- Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
- Mixed Reality - experiential retail
- Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
- Mixed Reality – game design
- Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
- Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
- Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
- Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
- Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
- Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
- Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration
More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.
Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.
The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.