While the concept of artist-invention can be dissonant with respect to the disciplinary categories of academia and society, there are many artist-inventors. LED video artist Jim Campbell holds several patents in video image processing (for a quick description of his process in creating this piece –>).
Artists Laurent Mignonneau and Christa Sommerer hold many patents, including one for a solar-powered informational building façade along with architect Michael Shamiyeh.
In 2003, artist Joseph Scanlan used a gallery space to process consumer byprod- ucts into high grade potting soil, which he then sold through the gallery. The process took 5 years of research and development and resulted in a patent.
Catherine Richards’ art piece, Method and apparatus for finding love, 2002, and patent application to the U.S. Patent Office are one and the same.
These four examples hint at the the spectrum of approaches that artist engagement with technology takes. Campbell’s work was created in the service of his LED light installations. Mignonneau, Shamiyeh, and Sommerer created the solar display as an end in itself to expand the possibilities for interactive art. Scanlan’s Paydirt can be considered as a metacommentary on the relationship of the artist to the contemporary gallery system, a do-it-yourself ecological project, a mockery of the entitlement that the patent and innovation system can bring, as well as technological innovation. Paydirt is being developed into a commercial product, yet, at least in certain institutional contexts such as the gallery space, it retains these other meanings as well. Catherine Richards’ patent application both challenges and utilizes the patent system to assist in the pursuit of love.
Modernist painter Yves Klein holds a patent. It is commonly thought that he laid an intellectual property claim to the color International Klein Blue. His brevet d’Invention does not describe the chemical composition of the pigment, but the procedure of smearing it on the bodies of models and transferring the imprint to a surface. The patent also covers “A titre de produits industriels nouveaux, les décorations ou intégrations architecturales obtenues par application du procédé spécifié.”
These examples demonstrate a full range of invention, and while culturally the arts and technology development appear on opposite ends of the disciplinary spectrum, we can see similarities that align the practices. While engineering is the assumed path to the development of new technologies, many visual artists and engineers imagine, conceptualize, and build artifacts as in the course of their practice. As part of this work, many visual artists and engineers develop high levels of technical and fabrication skill. Visual artists as a group have traditionally worked with industrial technologies such as paint and pigment chemistry, metalworking equipment, and kilns, as well as materials such as metals, resins, and coatings. Many post-industrial visual artists use high technology as both medium and highly-charged cultural material. These contemporary technological artists work with similar materials as contemporary engineers: electronics, computation, robotics, bioengineered materials, and smart materials, for example. The work of these artists often bleeds into technological development as they create new technologies and new interactions with technologies in the course of their projects. In these senses, the work of artists and engineers are aligned. On the other hand, we can see tensions erupting into humor as artists Richards, Scanlan, and Klein approach the role of technology developers.