Damien Erambert

The Intersection of liberal arts and Technology

5 min read

Inspired by “Lack of Vision” by Louie Mantia.

It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.

I have been thinking about this quote recently.

I’ve never really considered myself an artist. Sure, I’ve spent hours upon hours messing around in Photoshop as a teenager on the family computer, learning graphic design by following tutorials written by other amateurs. Does that make me an artist? I don’t know.

I’ve always been more into what we’d call web design and UI design. I’ve learned the ropes of all of this by just fiddling with existing things. It might feel “pointless” to an outsider, but I remember taking great joy in essentially doing “vector tracing” with Photoshop’s Pen tool over various pictures of my favorite fictional characters, pieces of tech and such.

All in service of figuring how to reproduce that one gradient, that one visual effect, etc. I distinctly remember doing that over a (I didn’t know it was at the time) render of Apple’s iconic Cinema Display.

For fun, I was messing around.

Around 2009 or so, I got my first iMac (the first aluminum one). I had been lusting for this computer for a long time before my parents got it as a birthday present. I browsed Apple’s website, enamored by the design of the hardware and the software.

I was so enamored by the visual, dare I say artistic, quality of the software (I couldn’t judge anything else by that point) that I had gotten into the hobby of disguising my Windows XP installation into Mac OS X “Tiger” and later on, Mac OS X “Leopard”.

Even after getting my Mac, I didn’t stop obsessing over that aspect of my computing life. I took any excuse I could to change my system or Dock icons by downloading a pack from The Iconfactory, MacThemes.net or DeviantArt.

Later on, I would take an interest in web design. At this point (late 2000s), web design really was unique.

Since I didn’t have any technical knowledge, I was “only” designing. I remember growing frustrated when my one developer friend would take too long to implement something. But it was gratifying to see the things I “drew” become alive and interactive.

Over time, I took it upon myself to learn HTML, CSS, and everything else. This was around the time when a little thing called WordPress was the hot new thing the block.

I didn’t have much of an “education” with these things. I would learn by breaking things. I would take an existing blog theme, tweak a few lines of CSS there a few HTML blocks here, and see what happens. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

Later, a friend and I teamed up to do more “web design” work, not in any official capacity (we were still students) but as a hobby. I was still design-oriented, had opinions and would draw web designs, but he was always the one who would come up with crazy visual ideas that browsers of the time wouldn’t be capable of reproducing accurately until 15 years later.

Coming up with a way to convey the effect somehow was gratifying. It may sound corny, but I felt like an illusionist! An illusionist who made you believe that Safari or Firefox in 2010 could show you some crazy background with rounded corners and shadows.

As time passed, I honed my skills, learned, and did more web design work for clients while I was studying.

I would then get a job at my current workplace as the first front-end developer, or “the CSS guy,” as the CTO would say back then.

This was in 2014. Browsers had gotten better, but progress was still slow. Showing vector icons on a web page was a new technique. We used fonts with icons because it was the only “reliable” way of showing vector graphics! It was terrible for various reasons but also awesome; we were tricking the machine browser into doing what we wanted.

I’ll always fondly remember the arguments I would have with our designer at the time. I had to be “that guy,” explaining that, sadly, that cool-looking UI effect wasn’t possible or not in a practical way and then coming up with a way to make it work even if it is far from perfect. But yet, it felt magical.

Ten years later?

I think lost it.

Art and technology don’t intersect anymore.

Tech sees Art as a liability. Not being an artist or a designer is now something that needs fixing, something that you can solve by buying someone else’s product.

Art is a resource to be mined; art is an asset and cannot exist on its own anymore.

The act of making art, what makes art valuable as part of the human experience, is an inefficiency that needs to be optimized for some fucking reason.

This sucks and makes my heart boil.

I don’t know how to fix it, I just know we lost the plot and it makes me sad.