I was looking online for the definition of people who restore art and came across the term restoration artist. It never occured to me that restoration can also be a form of art, and it had showed me a completely new side of it. So now I have to question myself again, what is the line between technology replacing craftsmanship, and technology enchaning craftsmanship? How can one define the both, and should anyone really make a line between them? Can technology help restoring art, or does it take away the jobs of specialists who dedicated their lives to this art form? I start to wonder if I am contradicting myself, because it might mean that I need to rethink my thesis, and what it really means to use technology for restoring art.
This is the traditional restoration artist Milroy Harrison, he had dedicated his craft for decades, and by watching this I discovered the complexity of this art form. There are many terms and methods for restoring, and he has the answer to all the problems. And it made me wonder if there are certain things that technology cannot do, maybe there are some parts where only human attention can restore? In the video, him and his assitant talk about restoring art with such human emotion, it is almost like they have developed a relationship with the painting, and on the same time discovering how the original artist had painted it in the first place. This is similar to how the 3D scanners can render detailed brush strokes of each painting, like I have mentioned in a previous post. And then it clicked, aren’t they doing the same thing? Isn’t this what I have been argueing about the whole time? That art should not be replaced with technology? If they call themselves restoration artists, then they wouldn’t want their crafts to be replaced by machinery, would they?
Then I came across another interesting term art conservators. It is another term they use to describe their occupation. Take Xiangmei Gu for example, she is one of the only Chinese painting conservator in the Freer Gallery of Art. What she does is to preserve the art from in the gallery, replacing the paper underneath the paintings, restoring chipped pigments on the paintings. It is not an easy job, as Chinese paintings are much different than western paintings. The paper is thin and she had spent years to master the skill back in China. And she said they the learning is not yet over.
“until you stop working, you never stop learning.”
Here is a painting that she had restored, you can see how different the style is, and I wonder if 3D printing can do the same, and mimic the thin ink.
Here is a video that shows the process of painting a chinese Gang bi style painting.
When I see her treating art with such respect, I couldn’t help but feel like technology might be in the way of this traditional way of conservation. How can we really balance it out? Perhaps 3D rendering and scanning should be used to build a data base for the future. But for the present, we should not forget the small community of restoration artists/ conservationists. Perhaps it’s just me, but there is something about the human emotion that’s put into the process, it makes the restoration even more meaningful. 3D printing might have percise, cheaper, and faster, but in the end its just a machine, and it lacks the understanding of the art we are trying to preserve. That’s something I’d like to keep in mind, and continue thinking about.