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This is a translation of an essay from the catalog, ORNAMENTA 1, Prestal-Verlag, Munich 1989

I have been asked if the historical state of naive hand labor to a modern state of intellectual production represents 'true progress.' 1 I hold that there has been an inevitable evolution, predicated on the development of our tools and methods of production...from the cave dweller's...to the industrial revolution...to the age of cybernetics.

As we are entering a new decade and approaching a new century, I believe it is appropriate to assess our historical role as jewelers. In trying to comprehend what we are doing today I find it informing to look at our history as artists to understand how we have evolved.

The Renaissance was a pivotal period for the arts. The life, works and philosophy of Leonardo da Vinci, the paradigm of the 'Renaissance Man,' can be very instructive for today's working artists. Ritchie Calder summarizes this lesson in the conclusion to his book on Leonardo:

Today, there is an extension of the senses. The microphone for specific purposes is more sensitive than the human ear; the television camera, refining the sense of sight in colour-wavelengths, is more tireless than the human eye; there are machine-methods many times more sensitive than the human touch. These senses can, telemetrically, reach out to the edge of the Universe and hear and see and measure cosmic events which happened billions of years ago. The computer has acquired the logical facilities of the human brain. It has memory so prodigious that we are led to believe that a know-all computer may be able to store and retrieve the knowledge of all the libraries of the world in a casket no bigger than the human cranium. But the computer has no imagination. It cannot make value judgments -- unless, as we are in danger of doing, we accept facts as Yes - No judgments. It cannot, as Leonardo did, yearn over the conditions of the human race. Nor can it distinguish beauty from ugliness nor give to painting the subtlety of the Mona Lisa. It cannot say 'I shall not disclose my submarine by reason of the evil nature of men who would use them as a means of destruction at the bottom of the sea.' The computer cannot do our reasoning for us nor accept responsibility for judgments on the uses of science. Nor can the learned societies, each dedicated to its own discipline or the promotion of experimental science But a body of thinkers, an Academia Leonardi Vici, would help us to do in our time what Leonardo did in his -- to see science in its third dimension of meaning and purpose. 2

I propose that artists once again take a leadership role in the interpretation of science and technology by providing the humanistic values that will allow us to use our new abilities for the benefit of all. As jewelers we can continue in the role of the artist who is in control of contemporary technologies and lead others into an understanding of sciences' positive potentials. We can follow the Renaissance masters, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Antonio Pollaiolo and Albrecht Durer, who trained as goldsmiths, and went on to lead their generations with a new vision.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's when only large main frame computers existed, artists were not able to exploit the power of the computer.Computer time was not only too expensive but there was also limited availability and it took too long to learn to program the computer. In 1978 the small personal computer became available and the world has not been the same since. It has been estimated that in the 15 years between 1970 and 1985, some 20,000 'conventional' computer-aided design systems, representing perhaps 100,000 workstations or 'seats,' were installed. CAD on a small computer became readily available in 1982, and in the subsequent three years another 100,000 seats were installed. This rapid growth is a direct result of the relative affordability, simplicity and availability of a small computer based CAD system. A jeweler can purchase a CAD system for under $5000. Although this is a limited system - computer, CAD/CAM software, printer or plotter - its performance would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in the early part of this decade. 3

This new availability has created new opportunities for the jeweler. It also poses some philosophical problems. Can the jeweler, trained in skilled hand work, learn to create equal aesthetic value with this new technology? Is jewelry produced by an artist without hand work as significant as the piece that has been labored over by hand? History will decide these questions. For now, the artist that wishes to address the important issues of our time can find no better medium than the computerized tool.

Stephen Wilson expressed his opinion about the artist and the zeitgeist,

The arts have served many functions throughout history. One of the most important has been keeping watch on the cultural frontier. That is, artists have enabled them to anticipate and interpret cultural trends. Working at their best, they have revealed unrecognized aspects of their contemporary worlds and offered guidance toward more humanistic futures. The challenge facing artists in our technological era is unprecedented. They are desperately needed as interpreters of culture. The whirlwinds of discovery in the sciences and other fields have contributed to a lopsided cultural development. Artists' dallying with the gadgets and dabbling with the ideas of science and technology are not sufficient. To help draw out the implications of this era, artists must achieve a deeper knowledge. They must come to know the world views, work styles, and traditions of the sciences while keeping alive the holism, iconoclasm, and celebratory attitude of the arts. The Arts are failing in their role as cultural watchman. They hardly acknowledge these changes let alone assume leadership in interpreting them. Computers offer an illustrative example. Certainly, artists have begun to use them in their work. But these well known forms of "contemporary art" are an attempt to assimilate the computer to the traditional image and sound making contexts of the past. They create fascinating images, extend the arts in interesting ways, serve valuable functions of popularization, but they do not lead us to new understandings of the implications that computers bear for our age. 4


Amy Slaton, former associate managing editor of Art in America argues for a new aesthetic, "...one that speaks to the presence of the computer in the world and its impact on the human condition and one that also subtly weaves the experience of creating new art forms."

She disagrees with those who believe that the computer is just a tool and that it can therefore be transparent. When confronted by computer art that looks like art done by hand, Slaton asks, "What's the point?" 5

Another artist who is deeply involved in using computers in his work provides additional insight into what the computer means to today's artists. ...computer art is conceptual art with a difference...the difference being that you have a means to visualize what is going on in your head. You do, however, have to think logically, to specify things in a somewhat precise way although that is becoming less and less the case. The lack of an emotional quality may be a criticism of this kind of approach but that does not bother me...not everyone is an abstract expressionist. 6 I believe we have entered an era in which labor intensity is no longer a useful criteria of value. Until now, people have evaluated how labor intensive the production of an object was and then assigned an aesthetic value to the more labor intensive object. Have we not all been asked the question, "How long did it take you to make that?" or overheard the comment while viewing an exhibition, "That's beautiful, it must have taken months to produce!"

Much of the content of jewelry today is a communication of lavish expenditures of time. In many cases that may be the only thing it communicates! I do not think that this is very intelligent at this time in our history. The dignity of hand work is a romantic notion, put forward by William Morris at the turn of the century, as a reaction to the many negative social manifestations that the industrial process created.

The computer however, is a liberating force that can help us create freedom and independence. It is inexpensive, readily available and unlimited in its applications.

Historically, machines have been used to enhance and speed-up hand work, but not replace the use of the hand. The Jacquard Loom, invented in 1801 is arguably the first automated control of a machine. The loom was controlled by punched cards to create intricate woven patterns. Early computers filled entire rooms and broke down often because of the heat generated by their vacuum tubes. The switch to transistors to replace the vacuum tube eliminated these problems and allowed for much smaller sized components, automated assembly and lower cost. The transistor has opened up computing to all of us. Computers are finding their way into the jewelers workshop in increasing numbers. Typically computers are used for word processing, business and graphic applications, because these were the first applications to become available on small computers. Technological advances have now made it possible to use computers to produce three dimensional objects. This technology is becoming ever more important in the crafts with the advent of computer-aided-design and computer-aided-manufacture (CAD/CAM). CAD allows the artist to design an object directly on the computer. The design is then translated by the computer program into numerical code instructions. These instructions are then used by the CAM program to control a machine tool, such as a milling machine or lathe, which produces the object.

Without the CAM capability, we would just have a glorified sketch pad. Initially, I thought that might be enough. I now realize that in order to justify my enthusiasm, the CAM capability must exist. Industrial-strength CAM suggests multitudes of identical widgets, in a never-ending stream. That is what so intrigues the investors in the large systems. I view it from a different perspective. I see CAD/CAM as a way of producing unique objects in an equally endless stream. This is not efficient economically, but it is effective artistically. Once we eliminate the overwhelming physical investment, we open up the opportunity to continue to explore the permutations of an idea until we have finished with it. My ideas tend to flow at a far more rapid rate than my ability to execute them. When I am involved in the execution of an idea, it is not long before the new ideas force their way into my consciousness, with a pressure that precludes continuing with the old ideas. Therefore, the exploration that I would like to see occur in my own work has never actually occurred. I have to move on because of the pressure of new ideas. The CAM aspect of CAD/CAM, I believe, will allow the luxury of that continued exploration, without denying the pressure to move on.

CAD/CAM enhances the ability to quickly generate and express ideas. I view this as central to what an artist does. When this technology is fully realized, we will be able to process ideas very quickly and therefore generate more objects, of potentially higher quality, in the same time. I see this as an improvement.

Writers have discovered that once they have turned to the word processor they cannot pull back from it. They know that it enhances the creative process. Very simply, we have discovered in the classroom, that when teaching writing to youngsters, one of the most difficult things is to get them to go back and refine their work. It is too laborious. Give them a word processor and they are inclined to improve their papers to an extent never before considered possible. These same benefits are available now to people working in three dimensions. In the past I have had to settle for approximations. Now I can continue to refine my idea until I get it right. By eliminating much of the labor, it allows for concentration on the innovative aspects of object-making. CAD enables the designer to continue to change and improve forms. If the objects are worthy, so much the better for us all. If they are not, there will be a greater proliferation of trash, but that is not the fault of the computer. The artist still has the responsibility for the creation of aesthetic values. I project a future in which creative individuals will be able to have a much greater effect on our society.

A very intriguing question is raised by the very ease with which the computer allows for changing a design. This calls into question the value of the unique. When it is nearly as easy to produce a new design as to reproduce an existing one, will we place as much value on the one-of-a-kind jewel. We have learned to value the unique object. The singular object is more sought after and can achieve greater recognition for the artist, compared to works that are identical to one another and produced in quantity. Now CAD/CAM allows us to change designs with extreme ease. Every piece can be unique. It takes as little effort to make the singular jewel as it does to make two or more identical pieces. The computer does the re-designing for us. It can be instructed to change the scale or proportions of a design and then recalculate its control program. In this new world, will the uniqueness of an object continue to be a criterion of value?

I am fascinated by this ease of modification. Perhaps this is due to my old, ingrained experiences. Nevertheless, for now I expect to explore this new freedom. Further, I have found that CAD/CAM will allow me to create forms that until now have not been feasible. CAD/CAM technology opens up machine tool manipulation that cannot be accomplished by manual control. An example of this is the simultaneous cutter movement in three or more axes. The computer is much more versatile than an human operator who can only concentrate on one axis at a time.

While the term 'unique' may have to be eliminated or redefined when applied to 'art jewelry', CAD/CAM provides many new challenges for the artist. I choose to continue to work with the technology of my generation and become as familiar with it as with the traditional ones. This becomes the means through which I can create aesthetic value and realize new possibilities for expression. I wish to speak to and about our time and I can find no more logical medium to use than the technology developed by this highly industrialized society.

1. Michael Dunas, "Conversations on Technology, Philosophy of the Physical" Metalsmith (Summer 1988)

2. Ritchie Calder, Leonardo & the Age of the Eye (London, 1970)

3. "The Personal Computer in Manufacturing" American Machinist & Automated Manufacturing (June, 1987)

4. Stephen Wilson, San Francisco State University "Artists As Explorers of the Technological Frontier" Academic Computing, (September, 1987)

5. Arielle Emmett, "Computers & Fine Arts" Computer Graphics World (October, 1988)

6. James VerHague, "Computer Graphics in Art" Three Graduate Seminars, Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, New York, 1980)