Art and Technics

Lewis Mumford's Arts & Technics (1952) considers "the humane arts" in the age of machines.

He looks at the transition from craft production to mechanical production, and thinks about what is gained and lost.

In typography, his view is positive. Mechanised printing diminished the significance of typeface itself, moving away from the visual clutter (and closely held cultural power) of illustrated manuscripts, to printed products that were easier to obtain, and whose ideas were easier to take in.

In general, he looks forward to the rise of the personal machine, and small scale technologies. Home computers and printers of both dimensions come to mind.

He is more wary of the aesthetics of stylisation in mass culture and the attempt to make machines more appealing in their appearance: mouldings, carvings, decorations of any kind, streamlined form, and he dismisses all this briskly as "sentimental nonsense".

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When this sort of thing is done the result is not the humanization of the machine but its debasement. It does not thereby acquire human values; it merely loses important mechanical values, values which, by the proper esthetic expression, do have at least a modicum of human relevance, to the extent that they express order or subserve power. The point is that the machine is not a substitute for the person; it is, when properly conceived, an extension of the rational and operative parts of the personality, and it must not wantonly trespass on areas that do not belong to it. If you fall in love with a machine there is something wrong with your love-life. If you worship a machine there is something wrong with your religion."

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