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  Window on the World

Earthly Art

The reciprical influence of art and society at large surrounds us in our daily lives. Much of the fine art that surrounds us exhibits a melding of functionality and aesthetics; for example: in clothing, cell phones, cars, furniture, buildings, and in all sorts of mechanical parts that are never seen by endusers. Let us cross the bridge between the worlds of art and real-time living.

Art and Industrial Dessign

Ball Bearing MoMA NYC The convergence of artistic form and practical function is evident in this heavy duty, eight-and-a-half-inch diameter ball bear­ing. This particular specimen is chrome-plated steel and was donated to the Museum of Modern Art by a Swedish corporation based in the USA [Sven Wingquist (1876–1953); S.K.F. Industries, Inc., Hartford, CT]. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is, some say, the Mecca of modern art. Along with the modern masters, MoMA's "Industrial Collection" is one of this commentator's favorite exhibits.

Among the museum's holdings is a large ball bearing. Ball bearings are used in many motors and other machines that have moving parts. Aside from the bearing's mechanical functionality, the bearing has the quality of being a "pure" art form. The ball bearing shown here is a MoMA piece from MoMA's "Machine Age" collection of the 1920s and 1930s.

Along with an extensive collection of paintings and sculptures, MoMA alos exhibits a library of historic cinema and television productions, as well as, objects of architectural interest.

Art in Antiquity

Egyptian Tomb: Temple of Dendur Institutions around the world undertook a mission to save these artifacts from rising water behind Egypt's Aswan Dam. The Temple of Dendur was awarded to The Met on 27 April 1967 and was placed on permanent exhibition in 1978. A ma­sive col­lection of tra­ditional art from every corner of the world also resides in New York City at The Metro­politan Mu­seum of Art (The Met): Among museums of any ilk, this is the museum of museums. The Met has a vast collection of antiquity, as well as more modern masterpieces. The museum also houses, for example, an extensive colection of Egyptian artifacts, a hall full of Medieval armor, a Chinese Garden, fashion exhibitions, and some fine examples of Korean art.
The Temple of Dendur was built by the Roman governor of Egypt, Petronius, around 15 BCE. This temple, as well as many other temples and monuments, were threatened with inundation as the first stage of constructing the Great Aswan Dam, or High Dam, was completed in 1964 across the Nile River. In viewing the Temple of Dendur, notice the construction technique of mounting a long square beam of stone atop a pair, or a row, of vertical columns, which is often described as post and beam construction. The same construction technique is seen in traditional temples of Korea, Japan, and China, as well as modern residential architecture. One notable difference between the post-and-beam construction in Asia and in the Middle East is in the material: in the Middle East, stone was used, while wood was used in Asia.

Art and Computer Hardware

We are now in the "Information Age" in which computers and computer-related gadgets coupled to the Internet provide an immense number of communications paths: people to people, machines to machines, and between machines and people. The miniaturization of electronic circuitry has made possible much functionality in a small space. Any smart phone today represents The Dick Tracy watch on ultra-steroids.

Printed circuit board Graphics card topside The inset shows the topside of an older ATI graphics card for a desktop computer. Individual components of the card are clearly visible. Note the cooling fan, which is necessary on nearly all modern graphics cards.
The photo on the right displays the bottom side of a printed circuit board (PCB) that has the function of "painting" an image on the monitor screen. PCBs have greatly helped to reduce the size of electronic equip­ment. The term "printed circuit" de­rives from use of photo-etching techniques used in newspaper, book, and magazine printing.
Wires between components in 1950s-era radio and television receivers filled much of the functional space in the device. In the 1960s, wires were replaced by thin copper traces, i.e. wires, that were printed or etched onto a thin copper sheet that was bonded onto one side of the printed circuit board. The green areas appearing in the photo above are electrical conductors, or wires. These patterns are quite functional, yet possess a kind of aesthetic form.
PCBs often have specific functions, for example: sound card, graphics card (video), and Ethernet cards (network). The board shown on the right is the bottom-side of a video card, or graphics adapter, whose gold-plated contacts are inserted into "slots" on a "motherboard", or "main board". Just about any machine, nowadays, that does something useful has a printed-circuit board, from radar sets and robots to washing machines and rice cookers.

Semiconductor chip Semiconductor chip de­sign also reveals a form of visual art that bridges the domains of art and functionality. This parti­cular chip is used for speech recognition, image analysis, robotics, and radar.

Semiconductor chips repre­sent a leap from wires printed on a printed circuit board to wires of microscopic dimensions formed on a thin wafer of silicon (SO2), wich is common sand, or quartz. Semiconductor chips are now constructed in "nanometer" dimensions:

  • Nine Zeros:
  • 1 x 10-9 nanometers =
  • 0.0000000001 meters
  • Electromagnetic spectrum:
  • extreme ultraviolet and soft X-rays
  • Human vision can "see" electromagnetic wavelengths in the range 390nm–700nm (nanometers), which is a very, very narrow range of visible wavelengths within the range of all electromagnetic radiation. Some snakes see longer wavelengths, infrared light>, while many species of insects see shorter wavelengths, ultraviolet light. For more information about enlarging our range of vision, surf to Beyond What Our Eyes Cannot See.

    The microscopic dimensions of today's chips require much shorter wavelengths of "light" than what our eyes can see. Modern chip designs are so incredibly tiney, that very short wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light or soft x-rays must be used for the "photo etching" cited in the manufacture of printed circuit boards. When viewed under a microscope, chips also reveal a form of artistic imagery. Apple iPad-2 A5 processor Topside view of Apple's A5X chip that was used as the central processing unit (CPU), the brain, in some iPads. Several Apple-designed chips were manufactured by Samsung of Korea. Ironically, these two titans of industry, despite being partners for years, have been locked in legal battles over reciprocal claims of patent infringe­ment.

    Because of the very small, microscopic scale of modern chip fabrication, chips can have many functional units. Most of the squares in the image (above) are functional units that perform specific tasks, while many of the thin lines are microscopic "wires". An Apple central processor chip (called a CPU, central processing uni) is shown on the right. Centrol processing units have many specialized circuits constructed on one square piece of silicon.

    Art and Nature

    A tree having style The irregular curves and bends of this tree defy the definition of a tree. Is it a tree, or is it a sculpture? Can a tree be a work of art? We are familiar with the majesty of the Giant Red Wood trees in California or the graceful beauty of a weeping willow tree. The unusual tree shown here inhabits the grounds of the Cho-gyeh Sa Buddhist temple in the center of Seoul. Similar trees grow around the Pennisula and sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

    Art and Science

    Pointillism is a late ninteenth-century artistic technique that forms color images by painting dots of dfferent colors and different sizes. Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859–1891) was a draftsman and a French Post-Impressionist painter, who is credited with introducing the Pointillism technique, as well as several other innovations in the graphic arts. For more examples, surf to the Wikipedia Pointillist Gallery

    Conventional techniques build an image with continuous strokes of color, rather than dots of color. In modern parlance, the dots are called "pixels", or picture elements. One might say that conventional painting is "analog" and pointillist painting is "digital".

    "The Seine at La Grande Jatte" (1888); The arrangement of intensity and color of each dot reveals the magic of modern-day color photography and video monitors.

    We can comfortably guess that Seurat had no idea that 100 years ahead, the realm of forming images would be using the same technique. Color photographic film forms images with highly dense arrangements of very small grains of colored dyes. The color computer monitor on which you are reading this paragraph forms images from grouping three tiny dots of red, green, and blue light into one composite of the three primary colors. Blending these three primary colors can create millions of colors of the rainbow. Perhaps, we can speculate that art predicted future technologies.

    Seurat's Parade de cirque (1889) Fewer, larger dots equate to lower reso­lution and a rough texture. Vincent van Gogh, "Self Portrait" (1887) High dot density offers a smoother ren­dition than the larger dots painted in the Seurat image.

    An Aside:

    A few words about pixels and dots deserve mention here. When we look at a photograph printed on a sheet of paper, we can see tiny "dots". Normally sighted people can see the dots with a magnifying glass. To produce a colored dot, three or more layers of ink are impressed onto each dot to produce the colored dot.
    Television displays and computer monitors, however, display one big dot that is composed of three smaller dots; the three smaller dots each display a single color: red, green, or blue; combining these three primary colors gives us white. These smaller dots are called "pixels". Pixels form dots. Note the difference in dthe texture between two pointillist paintings: large dots = low resolution; more dots = higher resolution. In the days of film photography, "grain size" was the descriptive word; in the lingo of digital photography, the descriptive word for degree of coursnace is "resolution".