Sunday, February 11, 2007


In my youth I loved the smell of turpentine, the feel of a pen nib biting textured paper, and the sight of wet watercolor sparkling like ichor.

I think future generations will have to find something else to love.

Technology will continue to transform and redefine what we once called art. Perhaps not in this decade but certainly in this century, traditional notions of skill, talent, artistic vision and manual dexterity will be relegated to a smaller and less relevant corner of human experience. People raised on interactive holographic images will have neither the patience nor the sensitivity for the quieter virtues of a subtle drawing or a nuanced painting. People who distribute art globally with the push of a button will have little use for an object to hang in museums and galleries.

The playwright Buchner once observed that, no matter what the future holds for us, "inside us there is always a smiling little voice assuring us that tomorrow will be just like today." That voice tells us that art will always continue in the tradition of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Picasso. The tools and craft of drawing and painting seem so central to our concept of art, how could they ever become irrelevant?

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a splendid little poem about the passing of great things:

When Death was young and bleaching bones were few,
A moving hill against the risen day
The dinosaur at morning made his way,
And dropped his dung along the blazing dew;
Trees with no name that now are agate grew
Lushly beside him in the steamy clay;
He woke and hungered, rose and stalked his prey,
And slept contented, in a world he knew.
In punctual season, with the race in mind,
His consort held aside her heavy tail,
And took the seed; and heard the seed confined
Roar in her womb; and made a nest to hold
A hatched-out conqueror . . . but to no avail:
The veined and fertile eggs are long since cold.

Dinosaurs ruled for 120 million years and yet are most famous for becoming extinct. Art has existed for a mere 35,000 years, so it is probably premature to believe that our little cultural conceit is fated to endure.

Is the end of art as we know it a good thing or a bad thing? Like many of you who have chimed in on the subject of art and computers over the past few weeks, I am torn. But regardless of whether it is good or bad, it seems inevitable. And as the great military tactician Clausewitz once said, the best way to win is to "exploit the inevitable."

The Sphinx may be the world's greatest monument to the epic permanence of art. It stands in the desert as a timeless testament to a glorious epoch in human history. But over the years its face was destroyed by invading soldiers and petty religious fanatics who were apparently unnerved to be in the presence of such an object. These vandals may have lacked artistic taste or ability, but they had something better: they were alive and victorious.

That is the morality of life, the essential superiority of here and now, however shallow and witless, over the past, no matter how grand and beautiful. When it comes right down to it, Ruskin was right: "the only wealth is life."

Now back to illustration!