Monday, December 16, 2013


Previously on Random Walks....

Zina Saunders commented:

"Scary to consider the advent of laser printing. Have you ever tried it? Your quandary reminds me a bit of my own when it became clear, about 10 or 15 years ago, that everything was going digital in illustration. It terrified me, infuriated me, I resisted mightily (mainly because I couldn't imagine being able to work digitally, plus the digital work I was aware of was, frankly, pretty awful). But I hunkered down and tried to learn how to do it, and now I love the freedom and possibilities it opened up for me.

Not saying your situation and what you face is similar, just rambling..."

Not rambling at all, and worth exploring, involving an increasingly expansive scope. My first exposure to 3D printing was around the late '90s, I think, back when it was still called rapid prototyping. A guy had one of the first printers, and printed off a plastic cupboard knob, which looked like a cheap plastic knob and took all day to print. At the time, I said, "that is completely retarded". Such is the case with anything new, right? WTF? What's the point. We already have stuff that does that. More of a pain in the ass than a time saver. &c. &c...

Flash forward a dozen or so years, and after reading news stories like the titanium jaw bone that was laser sintered to replace a woman's jaw lost to a bone infection, I says "Ah, Okay. So that's what it's all for. I'm the retarded one". Of course, I wasn't completely stupid about it. I could see the utility of it. I had considered getting a 3D printer a few years back, but I couldn't see spending a minimum of $25, 000 to make stuff that I could make for much, much less. I understand it will be the future for a lot of things, and when the price comes down a LOT more, I'll probably buy one.

I have contributed to a kickstarter project for the much more important front end of the 3D printer process: a cheap 3D scanner that let's you convert pictures into digital files of 3D objects (they are already out there, but I liked the one I helped to fund). 

Yes, so, youbethca! The freedom and opportunities now exist, not only for making manifest images in your mind into real objects, but - so, so much more - sampling of 3D objects in assembling digital bricolage. I mean the possibilities of what can be done give me a major metaphysical hard-on.

True, this all has been out there for a long time, and I still look to the early dadaists for some of the best examples. Point being, what I'm doing by making molds of objects and churning out wax casts to be combined and joined into critters is exactly what you are talking about. A whole new world, a new universe opened up for exploration. Square that - or cube it - with access to all the digital files that have been sampled so far.

So, now I will confess. I have a Whig's view of historiography (Whig as in Adam Smith, Hume, and Burke). I know that this is now a pejorative. It automatically puts me in the category of hopelessly naive, believing that things will continue to progress and get better. It's not a political philosophy, but a religious conviction. It suffers from the conservative's logical fallacy of trending - that things will continue as they are. I admit this failing. I know it is foolish, and yet I'll continue to believe it until circumstances adjust my behavior in another direction.

As such, I have to assume that today's 3D printer is like yesterday's Gutenberg printing press. Which is to say: 1) we are still working through the consequences and impact of that printing press some 600 years later, and 2) we have to realize just how risibly primitive today's 3D printers are. 

"Using an XY plotter and tube that poots out stinky plastic?" WTF? Savages!" will be the comment some fifty years from now. I suspect. Maybe even, "Wow, they used lasers to sinter stuff? AH-ha-ha, why not stone hammers? Sheesh!"

Ah, which gets me to the other part of the fun. I am a big huge fan of nostalgia industries. If, like me, you have a Whig's view of the future, then you know that nostalgia industries is always going to experience big growth. It's always going to boom. (My definition of nostalgia industry is any human activity or artifact, that is supplanted by something more modern. Example: LPs).

So, I do consider the nostalgia industries a guaranteed growth regime for all time to come because 1) there's always someone who picks it up as a hobby, 2) nothing we humans have ever done goes away.


1) is obvious, given that we are clever and curious monkeys and each of us has our individual quirks. So, let's look at 2). There is the obvious example of the LP boom, vinyl records are being made again, and styluses, and people like analog sound, but you also can find buggy whip manufacturers, and even, yes, stone knapping kit manufactures (in case you want to make a stone hand axe). The fact of the matter is, no matter how sophisticated and digital we become, we can't live entirely in our heads. We like, and need, things that can be handled, and that are part of the word, part of the natural world, that are simple, homely, and... real.

You can use ArtRage on your iPad to paint me a picture, and your digital tool kit is much larger and more versatile to work with. And you can take that digital image, and use a 3D print bot to make an oil painting from it. And I'd be blown away by it. But I'm still gonna LOVE one done by hand (or a wood cut, or a pen and ink drawing). Some things are just too good to let them go away!

So, even if I get myself a 3D metal caster or whatever it will be, I'll still be doing it the Old Skool way, the seven-thousand-year-old tried and true way as well. Or maybe mix and match the techniques in a analog/digital sampling. Fun!

(P.S. Hey artists! LACMA has started up the old Art and Technology program! Get your shit together and submit a proposal! I'm going to!)


  1. Very interesting to read your thoughts about Nostalgia Industries. I never thought of that, I think you've got a real good point.

    I will quibble, though with one thing: everything I do is done by hand. The only difference is the tool my hand is holding (lately it's a wacom pen).

    Now I must go and look up these 3D scanners you mention. I only became aware of 3D printing when there was the recent controversy over people printing out handguns. Wotta world.

  2. Brings to mind the story of 'John Henry'...

    1. I am blessed to have such fruitful commenters. Response in an essay coming up.