Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pixel, Texel, Voxel, Doxel

Some time ago, I was engaged in a discussion over at the Backyard Metal Casting Forums. I very much doubt that anyone would be very interested in the discussion per se, but it had very little to do with Santa Claus Machines. Otherwise known as A Machine To Grant Your Every Wish, or Universal Constructors, Star Trek's Replicators, Fabricators, or just "fabbers". Basically, a machine that makes what you want. 

Crude versions exist today. They cost several dozen arms and legs. Eventually the crudity and cost will come down, but for now, use of the machines is constrained to rapid prototyping for new product designs, experimental models, and components.  They usually consist of a PC with design software, a 3D printer, and possibly a 3D scanner. 
Artists, and more specifically sculptors, are interested in this stuff... and people who do not have design skills, artistic talent, or patience are also interested in it. 

The short version of the BYMC discussion went something like this: 

"I have a backyard furnace and lots of scrap metal with which to cast things. I have many, many ideas of things I wish to cast. However, I lack the skills/talent/interest to make the models of the things I wish to mold for casting. As a geek, I can instead create digital objects in CAD or Google Sketchup and I want to head down this route, instead of learning how to make things with my hands".

"Go for it, dude.  Here is a list of manufacturers that make 3D printers. Hope you have enough dough".

Now, I thought about this, and of course, got all philosophical about the subject. And I could have written a very long essay, but eventually I summarized my position to this:

"I don't ever plan on using any of this technology. At least for now. Reason being, it would take all the fun out of the tedium".

What do I mean by that? Well, aside from creating a Lowest Common Denominator social phenomenon of cheapening the creative process, where now just any dumbass can make stuff. (And I really don't have a problem with that, for the same reason I do not worry about plagiarism, because the Gap will always exist between those that got it, and those that don't). 

I won't use the technology, because the tedious part of making things, which is the majority of it, gives one time for reflection and introspection. 

Reflection because, as you make something, you make errors. As you make errors, avenues open up to take the thing you are making in a new or different direction. This is one of the reasons to make not just one art object, but a series of them. You usually find that the last, or second to last, in the series is the best. Or you find that the series mutates into something you would never, ever have thought of.  Had the design been executed in a robotic, or programmatic manner, reflection is lost.

Introspection because, as you make something, a feedback process occurs in the creative process. One that would not exist without the necessary paradox of wasted effort. It's hard to put into words. Its not giving up. Its moving on. Its questioning, not so much the worth, or meaning, or attractiveness, or utility of the object, but more like the value of it. Is this something that deserves to exist in the world? Do I really want to put in the time and effort to make this thing? Without experiencing the whole tedious material manipulation process, the feedback loop cannot exist.

So there you go. I'm not a Luddite or anything. If I can make use of the technology, I'll use it.  I also recognize my own limitations, and just as if I need something done which I have neither the time nor talent, I'll farm it out. And when the day comes that the technology is cheap, I'll definitely use it. Oops. Did I just use the C-word? Well, there's that as well.

Anyway for now, I'm fine, thanks.


  1. For me, the object is not always the point of the making. The object is incidental to the making for once made, it loses it's attraction. Yes, I can look at it and think it is pretty or that it works or doesn't work but my attention is already on the new thing, the thing that is in the process of being made. It's the process for me.

  2. Ah, yes. I'm sure a similar analysis can be applied to the process as well as the object. One can make the statement that it is the journey, as in the old "it's the journey not the destination". On the other hand "Are we There Yet?"