Joe Kim: Where Technology and Art Collide


The rewards of being a writer for Hackaday are many, but aside from the obvious perks like the secret Hackaday handshake and admission to the private writer’s washroom, having the opportunity to write original content articles is probably the best part of the job. It gets even better, though, because after you submit an article, you’ll eventually get an email from Supplyframe Art Director Joe Kim with a Dropbox link to the original art he has created to accompany your piece. No matter where I am when that email comes in, I click on the link immediately, eager to see what Joe has come up with. And I’m never disappointed.

Joe took some time out of his hectic schedule of keeping Hackaday’s visual style fresh and exciting to give a talk at the 2017 Superconference on “The Balance of Art and Technology.” It’s not surprising that a fellow who spends his days creating art would have some strong opinions about the place of art in society today, but what may be surprising is Joe’s attitude toward the impact that technology has had on graphic art. As a professional pixel jockey, Joe spends his days working on digital images in Photoshop, and yet he decries the fact that in many cases, technology has “taken the artist out of the art.”

Joe rightly points out that art has always followed technology, from charcoal and ochre antelopes sketched on a cave wall by the feeble light of a fat lamp right through to rendering farms that produce detailed moving images of places and people that never were. But technology has so democratized the creative process that we’re at a point where people use pocket supercomputers with high-resolution digital cameras to show the world what they’re having for lunch or to immortalize their latest duck-face pose.

The democratization of creation has sucked a lot of the soul out of art. His example of movie poster art is quite apt, moving from the beautiful hand painted art from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the stylized posters and titles of Saul Bass and on to the photorealistic paintings of the pre-digital days. But now anyone with a little Photoshop experience can (and does) create movie art, and we see everything converging into just a few common themes that are quickly and cheaply produced. To paraphrase Syndrome in The Incredibles, “When everyone is an artist, no one will be.”

Joe’s point is well taken. After all, before the advent of photography, master painters struggled for years to create portraits that we’d describe today as photorealistic. Once anyone could take a snapshot that was just as good as a portrait, fine artists moved to other areas of expression, and we got artists like Picasso and Van Gogh. It’s not a bad deal actually, and Joe points out with some good-natured ribbing that the hipster culture is starting to move art in different directions, with the revival of wet photography and exploration of more abstract art forms.

It seems like Joe is optimistic about where art is going these days, and it’s good to know that we’ve got a guy on the team that’s not just pushing pixels around. Joe brings an artist’s sensibilities to the table, and no matter how thin the seed ideas we writers give him, he manages to see the essence of the article and create art that captures it. It’s a rare talent, and we’re lucky to have him around.