Tech in the Art World

December 09, 2015 by Jennifer A. Diffley

There's a fine line between art and tech. Find out what artists are using to create phenomenal modern pieces.

Art and design collide.

There has always been collaboration between technology and art. Don't believe me? Take a look at Leonardo Da Vinci. Today, schools like MIT and Stanford encourage artists and technologists to explore the symbiosis of art and engineering by offering classes that merge the disciplines. 

Electrical engineering has brought a whole new level of tools that artists can have at their disposal. Since art is often visual and auditory, electrical components that emit light or sound are the obvious contenders, yet others might surprise you. So what are some of the most popular electrical components artists are using today? 

Microcontrollers are the brains of the artist’s vision. No matter how simple or complex the artwork, artists need some sort of programmable controller to make the art function. Controllers can be as complex as a Mac with an Intel processor or they can be simpler versions like Arduinos, Gemmas, Floras, etc. Arduino even has a section of the Museum of Modern Art dedicated to its use.

LEDs are some of the most widely used electrical components in art today. Erwin Redl, an Austrian-born artist, uses primarily LEDs in his installations. Erwin has used LEDs in various venues around the world to create environments and minimalistic works that invoke sensation without traditional art mediums. 

Microphones are also commonly used in art. MIT’s Jie Qi’s Dandelion Painting incorporates LED stickers and microphones to create an interactive painting for the viewer.  When you blow on the white LED dandelion puffs that have microphones as sensors, the seeds disperse and form new, yellow dandelion flowers.

Wires are an essential part of any circuit, connecting components and allowing those electrons to move. Not So Single Physicist used wires for her wire “Cloud,” creating a magnetic resonance circuit that reacts to the viewer who, while wearing headphones, can hear that resonance.
Speakers are a popular way to make audible art. Peter Vogel is one of the pioneers of turning circuits into sculptures that respond to the viewer in various ways. This German-born physicist shows us how to create aesthetically beautiful works out of common electronic components we take for granted.

Peter Vogel's Duo, 2005

Motors are another artist favorite. Daniel Palacios in his installation “Waves” uses rope moved by motors to create standing waves and harmonics that react to the viewer. The oscillation of the rope via the motors gives the viewer a physical sense of the sinusoids so familiar to engineers.

Color Sensors are a fun component in artistic installations. Yuri Suzuki’s “Color Chaser” is a simple line following robot that debuted in 2010. The “Color Chaser” would pick up the RGB data a user would draw on its path and translate it into sounds.

Motion Sensors have become popular with artists as well, especially with their emergence in gaming platforms. Daniel Rozin uses a kinect motion sensor to mirror the movement of the viewer in his art installation “Angles Mirror.”

Rozin's "Angles Mirror," 2013



Biosensors are a newer addition to the artist toolbox. “Prana” by B-Reel uses the XeThru chip to sense the viewers breathing pattern. The 13,000 LED installation will breath with you, adapting to your breathing pattern.
Recycled Printed Circuit Boards are a common art material days. English artist Julie Alice Chappell makes wonderfully detailed insect art out of recycled PCBs and other electrical components like capacitors, resistors, and such.

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