Humanities Decanted: Making Art Work: How Cold War Engineers and Artists Forged a New Creative Culture

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W. Patrick McCray

March 4, 2021 @ 4:00 pm - 4:45 pm


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Free to attend; registration required to receive Zoom webinar attendance link

Join us online for a dialogue between Patrick McCray (History) and Alan Liu (English) about McCray’s new book, Making Art Work: How Cold War Engineers and Artists Forged a New Creative Culture. Audience Q&A will follow.

Despite C. P. Snow’s warning, in 1959, of an unbridgeable chasm between the humanities and the sciences, engineers and scientists of that era enthusiastically collaborated with artists to create visually and sonically interesting multimedia works. This new artwork emerged from corporate laboratories, artists’ studios, publishing houses, art galleries, and university campuses and it involved some of the biggest stars of the art world. Less famous and often overlooked were the engineers and scientists who contributed time, technical expertise, and aesthetic input to these projects. These figures included the rocket engineer-turned-artist Frank J. Malina, MIT’s Gyorgy Kepes, and Billy Klüver, a Swedish-born engineer at Bell Labs who helped establish the New York–based group Experiments in Art and Technology. This book restores the role of technologists to the foreground, explores the era’s hybrid creative culture, and recounts the many ways that artists, engineers, and curators have collaborated over the past fifty years. Making Art Work shows that the borders of art and technology over the past half century are anything but fixed. Just as striking is that the original ideals and ambitions that animated the 1960s-era art-and-technology movement have not faded. Today, creativity, collaborations, and interdisciplinary research are promoted by academic and corporate leaders alike. What emerges is a long history of artists and technologists who have repeatedly built new creative communities in which they can exercise imagination, invention, and expertise.

W. Patrick McCray is a professor in the Department of History at UC Santa Barbara where his research, writing, and teaching focus on the histories of technology and science. Originally trained as a scientist, he is the author or editor of six books. McCray’s 2013 book, The Visioneers: How an Elite Group of Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future, won the Watson Davis Prize in 2014 from the History of Science Society as the “best book written for a general audience.”

Sponsored by the IHC’s Harry Girvetz Memorial Endowment


March 4, 2021
4:00 pm - 4:45 pm
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(805) 893-3907
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