With almost unimaginable technological development in the recent years, a number of new art media emerged in the world of contemporary art; but the appearance of the 3D printers and 3D printed art caused a huge discussion that can be summed up in a simple question: Are 3D printed artworks pieces of art at all? And, can those creating with 3D printers be considered as artists? However, in order to understand what 3D printed art actually is, we have to explain the technology first (what is a 3D printing pen, for example); by understanding the medium itself, we will easier understand what is 3D sculpture, 3D drawing, and so on. It is also very important to distinguish 3D printed art from other forms that may appear similar, such as CGI Art, or Net Art.
3D Printing Pen is probably the most used tool in the 3D printed art making. First of all, it’s very simple to use – it’s not heavy, and it’s not even too expensive. Probably the best-known design of the 3D printing pen is the 3Doodler, which is actually the first 3D printing pen ever made. You don’t need any kind of technological skills in order to use 3Doodler, or any other similar type of 3D printing pen. And what can be created with these pens? You are literally drawing in the air, so you are able to create different shapes and forms eventually ending in beautiful 3D drawings or 3D sculptures.
The word “scanning” is often used for 3D printing. So, when someone says 3D scanning, it usually serves to describe the process of 3D printed art making. There are different types of 3D printers (as devices), and it’s common to say “screening” something or someone, as a term describing the process of 3D printing. In the last couple of years, 3D printing practices became very popular. But, for the first time ever, it’s not only popular in universities or technical schools, but among contemporary artists and in contemporary art, in general. Actually, it’s becoming more popular than ever before. We already wrote about 3D street art, and 3D drawing, but these are “only” examples of optical art. 3D printed art goes far beyond, because it’s literally about three-dimensionality.
Had we written about 3D printed art several years ago, we would have mentioned only scientists working in this field. In the world of art, 3D printed art came to be used as a tool for repairing damaged artworks (for example, the artist Morehshin Allahyari uses 3D technology to recreate art destroyed by ISIS in Iraq). But, recently, the number of artists using 3D printing is constantly increasing. For example, Monika Horčicová creates stunning 3D printed sculptures; Eric van Straaten is well-known for his famous “3D printed head art”, creating surrealistic 3D printed portraits; Shane Hope uses 3D printing for creating small scale structural, reliefs that are first 3D printed and then painted to “reconcile the parts seamlessly.” However, many are criticizing the possibility that 3D printed art can be a “legitimate” part of contemporary art. What are their arguments and what the contra arguments are?
The main argument of those claiming that 3D printed art is not art is the fact that everybody can do it. The medium used for this “art form” is simple to handle - everybody can create beautiful works with it. But, this argument is similar to those claiming that a five-year-old child can paint a black square on white canvas (referring to Malevich’s famous painting). And, here is the point: without going into deep philosophical discussion about what art actually is, we want to underline the fact that the idea and aesthetics (not medium) is what makes the essence of an artwork. As Murray Whyte from Toronto Star perfectly says: When Robert Frank, the now-legendary Swiss photographer, hit the road in a beat-up Ford in 1954 with a mind set to capture an unseen America, it was with no guarantees: Only a handful of museums in the world collected photography and fewer still saw it as art. His venture was compulsion more than calculation — a feeling that, somehow, the simple machine in his hand could reveal more than words could describe. Sixty-some years later, Frank’s intuition is borne out. The Americans, the book his road trip begat, is now a pillar of the form. However, if medium is not important, but it’s about idea, can we talk about 3D printed art as a new form of conceptual art movement? And what the impact of the 3D printed art will be?
If we want to “legitimize” 3D Printed Practice as a contemporary art practice by focusing on ideas, dismissing the importance of the medium itself, it does not necessarily mean that 3D Printed Art is conceptual art. There are many similarities; for example, many 3D Printed pieces are reproducing other artworks by creating them with different medium, however keeping the same idea, which is also a common practice within conceptual movement. However, it does not mean that 3D Art is conceptual; many 3D printings focus on aesthetics – therefore we conclude that 3D Printed Art may, but doesn’t have to be conceptual art (as it is the case with other mediums). But, what’s the place of 3D Printed Art in contemporary art? It’s difficult to speculate, but if we note the trends, and if we know the fact that many other mediums were firstly dismissed in the past before they became popular contemporary art practices, we could expect that 3D printing will become a significant part of contemporary art practice. Probably in combination with other mediums (traditional sculptures or paintings), 3D Printed Art will certainly become part of many art collections.
Featured Images: Linlin & Pierre-Yves Jacques - Artwork (courtesy of 3dprintingplan.com); Shane Hope - Atomic Killed Threads (courtesy of shanehope.info). All Images are used for illustrative purposes only.