Art, in all its guises, is of course an invention. Its evolution was governed by the internal manipulation common to any human endeavor. But it was also greatly altered and influenced by inventions not initially intended to relate to art.

Consider the discovery of electricity, most famously by Benjamin Franklin but by others as well, and the performing arts. Until the beginning of the previous century, a performer’s work was a prisoner of time. Unlike the painter, composer, etc – when the show was over and the audience gone not a trace of a dancer, singer, or actor’s art remained. He had to do whatever he was gifted at again in a succession of repetitions until he wore out. And after that, he was just a memory documented by the comments of contemporaneous observers whose recollections became fainter with time. After a sufficient interval, the giants of performance became microscopic while those just a little less gifted vanished entirely.

Recordings, both aural and visual changed the status of the performer as they added permanence to to what had been entirely transitory. However, it took almost a century to move from mechanical reproduction to that completely dependent on electricity which was of such technical perfection that it supplanted the original. With electricity and all that depended on it, performing artists raised their status to close to that of those who invented what they interpreted had enjoyed.

But electricity allowed the development of new art forms like motion pictures and its bastard brother television. So beguiling are the movies that they’ve overwhelmed the theater and made a live performance a quirky taste or a tourist event. Most movies are junk, but that’s true for most operas, plays, symphonies, and so on. But the cinema sucked the creative juice from the other performing arts such that they became the relics mentioned above. People with creativity, or pretensions to it, solely want to make movies.

Whether the decline in the novel, the play, opera, serious music, and poetry is due to the diversion of artists to film or that of the audience to that medium, the collapse of those once dominant art forms is striking. A century ago, or even later, any person of even ordinary education could name several poets who wrote in English. Today it’s rare to find anyone who can name a single poet writing in the language of Shakespeare and Yeats. But ask almost anyone to name a great film director and you’ll likely get a list rather than a single name.

The modern music of today that has attracted a large audience is almost entirely dependent on technology and sometimes isn’t even music. I mean to cast no verdict on its worth other than to comment on the obvious. It has almost entirely displaced older forms.

The inventors and engineers who designed and built the steamship, the railroads, and ultimately the jet airplane changed the lives of performing artists in a way unimaginable to their like of a century ago. A pianist could perform in Vienna one day, Milan, the next, and Chicago two days later. The performer was always an itinerant, but not with the speed and exhaustion of today.

Think of the great composers who were also virtuoso players. We have the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, and Liszt. But we don’t know what they sounded like on their instruments of choice. The same is true of the first great conductors – Wagner and Berlioz. We can only guess at their interpretations. Today art has reversed itself. There are no composers of genius, but a plethora of players of astounding capacity. Because of invention and technology, their work will endure while those of today’s composers will wither.

Painting and to a lesser degree sculpture were the only means of capturing the way people and places looked. Art was entirely representational. Invention permanently changed the nature of art. The ability to permanently capture an image (photography) was the invention of Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre. Its rapid development by the mid-19th century made representational art no longer the only way to depict reality. And as photography improved it made the older art form a ponderous and time consuming way to capture reality. So art changed, with considerable but futile resistance from establishment figures.

Painting moved from impressionism to expressionism to cubism and finally to riot. There was a lot more in between that I’m ignoring. The definition of art was expanded to include throwing paint on a canvas to declaring a urinal art. All of this creativity and lunacy was the sequella of invention.

Having changed for both the better and the worse art is now faced with the computer. It’s too soon to know exactly where the computer will place art, but a couple of locations seem likely. Computer generated graphics have already had a deep effect on movies. The power of this technique will only grow. When combined with artificial intelligence there’s no limit on the imagination. AI is in its infancy and is currently more a fad than a technique of power. But it will grow and doubtless have effects on art and beyond that we have not predicted.

Art and invention are conjoined twins. They have always been so. Their closeness is permanent. They can never be separated.