Magic and tech: art

Art is another one of those things that makes us human, and in more than one sense: some of the earliest evidence for human habitation comes in the form of artwork such as cave drawings or inscribed shapes on animal bones. As much as I hate to admit it (I failed art class in high school), we are artistic beings.

And art—specifically the visual arts such as painting, sculpture, etc.—has progressed through the ages. It has taken advantage of technological progress. Thus, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t also be affected by the development of magic. Although it may seem odd to consider art and science so intertwined, it’s not really that far out there.

The real way

Art history is practically a restatement of the history of materials. That’s our human nature coming out; almost the first thing we do with a newly developed article of clothing, for instance, is draw on it, or paint it, or dye it. Today, we’ve got fancy synthetics colored in thousands of different hues, but even our ancestors could do some remarkable things. Look at some of those Renaissance paintings if you don’t believe me.

What they had to work with was…not the same as what we use. Many of their paints and dyes were derived from plant or animal products, with a few popular pigments coming from minerals such as ochre. Their instruments were equally primitive. Pencils weren’t invented until comparatively recently, brushes were made from real animal hair (requiring a real animal to provide it), and those fancy feather quills we only use nowadays for weddings and The Price Is Right were once the primary Western tool for writing in ink.

For “3D” artwork, the situation was little better. Today, we have things like CNC mills and techniques to move mountains of metal or marble, but our ancestors made some of the most impressive monuments and structures in the world with little more than hammers and chisels. (In the Americas, they even built pyramids without metal tools. I couldn’t build a pyramid like that in Minecraft!)

Can magic help?

How would magic advance the world of art? Our usual approach of balls of stored elemental energy won’t do much, to be honest, but there is one way they could help, so we’ll get that out of the way first. Lighting has been a problem forever; getting it right is one of the hardest parts of a modern media production. (Supposedly, this is one of the reasons why the next season of Game of Thrones is delayed.) But we’ve already stated that magic can give us better artificial lights. Give them to artists, and you instantly make portraits that much better.

Other improvements are a little less obvious. Many mages will have an easy path to artistry, as the study of magic is as much art as science. It requires observational skills, creativity, and commitment—all the same qualities a good artist needs. And they can use personal spells to aid them. What artist wouldn’t want photographic memory, for example?

The materials will also benefit from the arcane, as we have seen. The earlier advent of chemistry means, among other things, better pigments. Upgraded tools allow for more exquisite and exotic sculpture. With the advanced crucibles and furnaces magic brings, our magical realm might see a boom in the casting of “harder” metals like iron or steel. Magical technology may also bring an increased emphasis on artistic architecture. All in all, the medieval realm will start to look a lot more like the Renaissance, if not more modern.

That’s not even including the entirely different styles of art magic makes possible. Maybe pyrotechnics displays (achieved through fire spells) become popular. Etching via jets of water is a modern invention, but the right system of magic might allow it centuries earlier. Welded sculptures? Why not? You can even posit a “magical” photograph apparatus, moving the whole genre of picture-taking several hundred years into the past. And it’s a small step from recording still images to recording a bunch of still images in succession, then playing them back at full speed, especially if you get a helping hand from a wizard.

Yes, I’m talking about movies. In a society outwardly based on medieval times. It’s a complex problem, but it’s not entirely infeasible. All you really need are two things. First, a projector, which magic can easily provide. (Hint: a magic light and a force-powered motor.) Second, film. That one’s a bit harder, but it only took a few decades for inventors to go from stills to moving pictures. There’s no reason why wizards couldn’t do the same thing, although they may be held up by the need for chemical advances to make a translucent photographic medium.

It’s magic

Magic is already art, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make the lives of artists easier and more interesting. It’s often been asked what a famous artist of the past (e.g., Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo) could create if they were given today’s tools. In a magical society, we can come one step closer to answering that question. And that’s with a low-magic setting. Imagine what a sword-and-sorcery mage-artist could accomplish.

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