Q: What is the difference between using digital technologies as a tool versus as a medium?
Response: It seems that the major difference between using digital technologies (DT) as a tool versus using them as a medium, is that when you use DT as a tool you use it in a much more limited sense. You use the tool as it was meant to be used and to create a defined object, whether it’s a Website, a picture, and so on, that has specific limitations and a singular purpose. For instance, a basic Website’s function is probably to disseminate some kind of information to people. Whereas when you use DT as a medium it seems that artists push the limits and boundaries of the DT they’re using. If you were a New Media artist creating a Website, you might be using the Website to do things other than the basic function of disseminating information. You might use the Website to make the audience feel a certain way.
Additionally, in our book, Paul discusses different approaches in New Media that artists have taken, and often these may start with a DT, such as coding, software, networks, etc. but the artist uses the tool in a way that it wasn’t necessarily the original intention of that given tool. This reminds me of our first project, which involved using a software program that isn’t meant for creating artwork, to create art. Originally it seems that most technologies weren’t created with the idea that they could be used to create original, interesting works of art but New Media artists have taken those technologies to a whole new level, exploring not just what a technology can “do” on its face but they seem to use those technologies and the unique environments they present (like interactivity and bending the idea of space and virtual reality) to also critique not only our world but the technologies themselves and the impact the technologies have on our world.
It seems that this also means using the tool in an explorative way and not an instructional or one-dimensional way. I think of sitting in a class learning how to use Photoshop to edit pictures, which is basically what the program was initially created to do. But now, you see artist using Photoshop to create these amazing and layered works of art. I think this quote from our book gets at this idea:
“Code has also been referred to as the medium, the ‘paint and canvas’, of the digital artist but it transcends this metaphor in that it even allows artists to write their own tools – to stay with the metaphor, the medium in this case enables the artist to create the paintbrush and palette.”
It seems that not only code allows digital artists to do this but most DT. It presents the artist with all these possibilities and ways to customize something to fit their needs. This is very different from traditional artistic mediums, such as painting. Painting is very one-dimensional, in terms of working “outside the box”. There are only so many ways you can change this medium up – maybe the way you apply the paint or the colors you use (and how you use them) but ultimately it’s a much more closed space to work in than the freedom digital technologies afford an artist.