Week 5: Art for Art’s Sake

This week’s lecture slides featured many projects involving GPS and Rapid Prototyping. One interesting project in particular was called Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite in which an artist, Trevor Paglen, collaborated with aerospace engineers to develop small, space-worthy satellites that expand into large reflective spheres. The spheres could then be launched into space and circle the Earth at low-orbit to provide a shooting star-esque phenomenon for onlookers of the night sky. The project was created in response to the question “of what aerospace engineering would look like if its methods were decoupled from the corporate and military interests underlying the industry” (Paglen). In other words, how would aerospace engineering look if it were extended past the field in which it is used today? I believe this project begs a common question of artists and non-artists alike: What is the point of art?

Many people would probably wonder the reason for putting so much money and time into developing a satellite and launching it into space just to look at it. Paglen partially answers this question by twisting the argument of “art for art’s sake,” and turning it into “aerospace engineering for aerospace engineering’s sake.” He submits that if we have the technology to create a different type of art piece like these satellites, then why can’t artists utilize the technology just as aerospace engineers do? He submits that the practice of technology must not simply stay within the bounds of science, but can extend into the scope of other fields like art, supporting the main ideas of this class. On the flip side, how can aerospace engineers utilize art methods to better their developments in technology? To answer Paglen’s question, if we have the capability to create art or technology, then the advancement of that field should be enough of a reason to move forward; it’s just for the sake of developing art and technology.


One interesting project that I would like to bring to this discussion shows the integration of an ancient art practice, origami, into rover technology. One team has successfully developed sheets of material that self-fold into mechanisms that can walk and crawl with attached motors. With the use of high-tech laser technology and the simple folding of paper, this merging of science and art created a whole new area of development for future exploration. When looking back on the question of “why art,” we can see that simply “art for art’s sake” or “engineering for engineering’s sake” is a perfectly feasible reason to expand thinking and explore new possibilities. When used outside the original scope of just art or just science, the possibilities of advancement and thinking are increased exponentially.

-Sam Ozenbaugh


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