Term Paper: Industrial Revolution and Beyond

Pages: 19 (4904 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Modern style was viewed as simple, practical, convenient, and sanitary.

Modernism was a mirror-image of the Arts and Crafts Movements -- as well as a mirror image of the virtues practiced and praised by artist and artisan from the Ptolemaic period to Impressionism. As Walter Benjamin argues, before the age of mechanical reproduction in art (and the age of machine-made everyday and decorative objects) each object was valued for its individuality. But with the rise of Modernism, every object became valued because it was like all the other examples of its type. While difference had once been the measure of the worth of an object, now lack of difference became that measure.

Rationalism and Other Aesthetic Philososphies

The changes that occurred in art and design from the Industrial Revolution through the Information Revolution can be examined in terms of their aesthetics, of the way that things look. This is in no way illegitimate, for while we were all told as children never to judge books by their covers, in art and design the appearance of something is of course of no small importance. However, to concentrate only on the way in which objects looked provides us with an incomplete picture of the fundamental changes that were taking place within the world of design during this period. We can only come to a fuller understanding of what was happening during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th in terms of the development of modern design language if we examine the social and cultural changes that prompted these differences in design. This further analysis, while important, should not be considered to be more important than a purely aesthetic one; rather, the two must be considered in conjunction with each other. For example, we must look both at the differences in terms of the "look" of objects made by hand between machines and those made by hand tools as well as the more fundamental social and economic and cultural changes that were occurring that prompted these visual changes.

In no small measure, as Fer, Batchelor and Wood (1993) argue, the creation of a language of modern design developed through an iterative process: Certain changes were brought about through the use of machines, which inevitably created new aesthetics. These aesthetics became admired (for the most part) because they represented the modern and progress, a concept that was then less epistemologically complex and ambiguous than it is now. The value that people placed on the aesthetics of "modern" objects and design further enhanced their liking for the aesthetics of modern objects, and this prompted people to create philosophies that celebrated both modern design and the social infrastructure and developments that undergirded such design.

One of the most important aesthetically-based philosophies during this period was that of Rationalism, which was linked to a generally rising secularism in society as a whole and was based on "an approach to life based on reason and evidence."

Rationalism was a somewhat loosely configured philosophy, and its borders were even harder to define once one moved into the realm of design, but overall it emphasized the importance of human agency, the importance of human intelligence and ingenuity. While committed to the search for rational (as opposed to divine) explanations for experiences and phenomena, Rationalism was also committed (within the realms of expressive culture) to a celebration of human emotion on the grounds that emotion is as much a part of human experience as is intellect.

Rationalists, in addition to adhering to atheism (or agnosticism) also advocated that society be remade in a more liberal, more egalitarian form. Such an open society would have a number of important cultural and political consequences, including the elevation of beauty (whether in terms of "high art" or in the design of the everyday):

Society is should be an "open society," where each individual is able to live "freely and equally practise their chosen life stance, and in which human potential is realised to the benefit of the individual and the community at large."

As well as approaching life through reason, rationalists enjoy those things in life where emotion and imagination are to the fore.

There has been a long tradition of artists and writers who have been associated with rationalism and its sister movement, humanism, or have pre-empted rationalist ideas in their writings. George Eliot, E.M. Forster and Emile Zola are all examples of such writers.

Horses to Horsepower to Binary Code

As fundamentally as the Industrial Revolution changed the world, so too did the Information Revolution. Of course, unlike their real military counterparts, have no neatly defined beginnings and ends. (Indeed, this is true of martial revolutions as well: While there may be a single battle that begins the fighting and an armistice that ends them, there are always a series of events that lead up to any revolution and shock waves that endure long after it is declared over.) Although it occurred primarily during the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution actually began in Britain in the 18th century and while it is generally considered to have ended around World War I, in fact it is still going on in some parts of the world. While most of us live in an urbanized, industrialized milieu, there are still many people who live in villages or in the country and make their livelihood by using farming methods that were already ancient with the first machine-driven mills were still barely an idea. Indeed, in some important ways there will always be parts of the world that escape many of the key elements of industrialization: We may now depend on goods made in the factory rather than in our own homes, but we will all starve is the traditional practice of agriculture is abandoned (although we may all eat rather better if mechanized farming equipment is used rather than the hand plough.)

The Information Revolution may seem to have occurred more quickly than the Industrial Revolution because we tend to associate the term with what we might call the "computerization" of society and the substantial cultural, aesthetic, economic and social changes that have occurred as information (and the machines used to convey it) has become one of the valuable commodities in the world. However, we should take a longer view of the Information Age. We should also consider classifying the Information Revolution as merely another chapter of the Machine Age, which is generally considered to span the entire era of invention and social change in society and culture that was started by the Industrial Revolution and that will continue for as long as our society is based on the work of machines.

We are inclined to view computers as being fundamentally different from other types of machines because they help us to process information rather than to till or to spin or to lift heavy objects. And, of course, to some extent it is true that computers do different kinds of work than do harvesters. But in other, at least as important ways, computers are exactly like forklifts: They extend the capacity of humans to do work beyond that which they would be able to do on their own. This is equally true whether we are considering the ability of humans to lift weight or perform mathematical calculations.

This is not to say that the rise of the computer did not affect society in different ways than did the invention of the cotton gin. Certainly each new important machine brings with it a series of specific social and cultural changes. If there was a single truly revolutionary event in the way in which humans create, process, share and store information it was not the first computer (which was designed to make the creation of complicated textiles easier to perform -- an interesting link between information technology and modern design that is often forgotten) it was the invention of the printing press. Gutenberg's press with its movable type made information far easier to record, to capture, to share. It made literacy a mandatory part of education for an increasingly wide segment of the world's population and it made the written text a central element of human society.

Compared to the changes that Gutenberg wrought, Bill Gates is a minor figure. The fact that we now tend to see Gates as so important has more to do with current ideas about the importance of money as well as the fact that Gates is our contemporary. We can see his accomplishments (which have more to do with business strategy than with information) but do not yet have the historical distance to place them in perspective.

Concentrating Power, Disrupting Power

The rise of the computer and of the Internet have influenced the language of design in a myriad of ways. The most obvious are also the least important such as the affinity of designers for typefaces that look as if they were generated by a silicon-based brain. These computer fonts, such as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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