When Art and Technology Collide…

5 Great Books on Art and Technology selected by Choice reviewer William S. Rodner

The impact of the Industrial Revolution on modern economic, social, and political life is unquestionably profound. But no less significant is its influence on the arts. Since the 18th century, artists have responded to technological innovation and mechanization changes that alter the environment.

Art and the Industrial Revolution, by F. D. Klingender. Rev. and extended ed., ed. and rev. by Arthur Elton. A. M. Kelley, 1968.
First published in 1947, and focusing primarily on Britain from the late-18th through the mid-19th century, this book charts the visual representation of industrialism with images that record and explore the reality and impact of technological change. This art documented innovation, celebrated achievement, and exposed poverty while giving new impetus to such aesthetic concepts as the picturesque, the sublime, and romanticism.

Art and Photography, by Aaron Scharf. Allen Lane, 1968.
Photography was a product of the 19th-century revolution in technology. Scharf explores photography’s impact, from its utilitarian origins to its claims as an autonomous art form. Portraits (and the threat to painters), reportage, representation of movement, photography as an aid to painting, the “dilemma of realism,” and photomontage are just a few of the topics considered.

The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, by Leo Marx. Oxford, 1964.
The classic examination of technology and its impact on the traditional landscape. Though this is a work of literary criticism, its discussion of change and the challenge of a new “utilitarian spirit” has application to visual arts and their global audience.

Pioneers of Modern Design: From William Morris to Walter Gropius, by Nikolaus Pevsner. 4th ed., rev. and expanded. Yale, 2005.
First published in 1936, this is a groundbreaking study of designers and architects confronting the challenge of industrial technology through the early 20th century. Pevsner links the progress of modernism to the rejection of ornament and the appreciation of machine products for their honest utility.

Turner: Rain, Steam and Speed, by John Gage. Viking, 1972
J. M. W. Turner was the first major painter to feature industrial subjects in his work. Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway, painted in 1844, is his most powerful and dramatic response to the new steam technology. Gage thoroughly analyzes this seminal painting and places it in the context of early 19th-century industrialism.

About the author:

William S. Rodner (emer., Tidewater Community College) is a cultural historian and editor of Scotia: Interdisciplinary Journal of Scottish Studies. His J. M. W. Turner: Romantic Painter of the Industrial Revolution appeared in 1997. He is also the author of Edwardian London through Japanese Eyes: The Art and Writings of Yoshio Markino, 1897-1915 (2012) and numerous articles on, and reviews of, British art and politics. In addition, he is coeditor, with Loraine Lees, of DeWitt Poole’s An American Diplomat in Bolshevik Russia (2014).