Making Art Work
How Cold War Engineers and Artists Forged a New Creative Culture
The creative collaborations of engineers, artists, scientists, and curators over the past fifty years.
Artwork as opposed to experiment? Engineer versus artist? We often see two different cultural realms separated by impervious walls. But some fifty years ago, the borders between technology and art began to be breached. In this book, W. Patrick McCray shows how in this era, artists eagerly collaborated with engineers and scientists to explore new technologies and create visually and sonically compelling multimedia works. This art emerged from corporate laboratories, artists' studios, publishing houses, art galleries, and university campuses. Many of the biggest stars of the art world—Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, Andy Warhol, Carolee Schneemann, and John Cage—participated, but the technologists who contributed essential expertise and aesthetic input often went unrecognized.
Coming from diverse personal backgrounds, this roster of engineers and scientists includes Frank J. Malina, the American rocket-pioneer turned kinetic artist who launched the art-science journal Leonardo, and Swedish-born engineer Billy Klüver, who established the group Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T). At schools ranging from MIT to Caltech, engineers engaged with such figures as artist Gyorgy Kepes and celebrity curator Maurice Tuchman.
Today, we are in the midst of a new surge of corporate and academic promotion of projects and programs combining art, technology, and science. Making Art Work reveals how artists and technologists have continually constructed new communities in which they exercise imagination, display creative expertise, and pursue commercial innovation.
Come for the history, stay for the fascinating art: in this thoughtful and engaging study, McCray sets aside cultural polemics to focus on how collaborations between artists and engineers rewired notions of creativity, emphasizing the labor required to do so.
Michael D. Gordin, Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Princeton University
A truly impressive achievement. Not only the best introduction to the big onrush of art and technology from the Cold War to the counterculture, but one that also offers a wealth of new insights to dedicated students of the period by taking the vantage point of engineers.
Douglas Kahn, author of Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts
Shedding new light on canonical figures and elucidating the less familiar contributions of others, such as Frank Malina and Elsa Garmire, Patrick McCray's history of the art and technology movement of the 1960s distills questions and lessons that testify to its ongoing relevance for the arts, industry, and academe today.
Anne Collins Goodyear, Codirector, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
"Patrick McCray's excellent new book, Making Art Work [...] provides a comprehensive history of postwar artistic and scientific collaborations in the United States."
"In Making Art Work, W. Patrick McCray asks why and how American artists and engineers collaborated to produce this kind of technological art in the 1960s and 1970s. [....] this book also provokes additional questions. Of what did technological art make people aware? Could it in fact contribute to solving social problems like hunger, homelessness, and war? How did patriarchy and white supremacy shape this art and the awareness it produced? What roles did women and people of color play in constructing and contesting it? Although none of these questions is at the center of McCray's book, he points toward some of the answers."
Los Angeles Review of Books
"A thoughtful and engaging study that provides a good introduction to the surge of art and technology from the Cold War to the counterculture of the 1960s, offering new insights into the artists of the period that took advantage of the skillset and knowledge of engineers."
"An insightful and absorbing [book] by the historian W. Patrick McCray reveals the motivations and impact of this idealistic confluence of artistic radicals and mages of the Cold War."
"A well-documented and accessible history of the interrelationship between technology and art that has produced ground-breaking processes, hybrid minds and ideas."
"As McCray shows, the seemingly impermeable barriers between science and art have in fact been highly porous. The two cultures do, it seems, have common ground."