Transmission in Motion


“Art without an aura: Techne in the digital age” – Angelo Zinna

Jason Tuckwell’s lecture “Agency and technē in creative practice” drew attention to the role of technical skill in the production of art, questioning whether it is worth revisiting the traditional view of “art as aesthetics” rooted in the Platonic concept of poesis. By juxtaposing the “particular” character of technē to the “universal” essence of nature, Tuckwell explored how the creative process involves an act of systematic deviation where nature’s telos, or purpose, is modified producing an entirely new object. While deviation occurring within primary processes of evolution guided by nature is usually the product of an accidental event — such as a lightning bolt causing a tree to change its
shape –, technē is seen as an intentional, rational action employed by an agent to bring genuine difference.

However, Tuckwell explains, technē is not instrumental to poesis and while it has
been often considered “encoded in the work,” it should not be thought of as subordinate to the primary process of “shaping what is coming into being.” Rather than mimicking nature, technē acts upon “the process of production” by creating new functions and ends for such processes. Technē , thus, is not a tool, but a “mechanism of intentional skill through which the contents of our higher faculties are made to effect real deviations upon what is already in being” (Tuckwell 2019).

Tuckwell’s argument acquires particular relevance in the context of modern,
postmodern, and contemporary art where an instrumental understanding of technē is challenged by the introduction of technology into the creative process. The interaction between humans and machines in the production of art was first analyzed in Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility , a text that separates “authentic” from “reproducible” works, creating a hierarchy that is constructed on the Marxist idea that the value of art is based on the amount of labor that was put into its creation. Benjamin’s division of high art, such as painting, where uniqueness is projected through an “aura,” and low art, such as photography, that lacks originality, is critiqued by Tuckwell, who opposes the reduction of art into “any kind of productive process” (Tuckwell 2019).

The masterpieces of Andreas Gursky, Ansell Adams or Cindy Sherman provide
tangible proof of the false equivalent made of the value of a work and the production process. The act of creating with machines does not diminish the worth of the photographers’ output, proving that a reductive approach to technē is ultimately misleading, especially in the contemporary context. A subsequent issue that arises in the discussions surrounding art and technology, however, involves the “scepticism about intentionality”. Considering that the agent’s telos may no longer be effective or meaningful when sophisticated or uncontrollable machines come into play, technē as skillful technique could appear to lose its strength. Tuckwell argues that such doubtfulness is still the result of an interpretation of art through its mode of production, and should thus be abandoned in favor of a view that considers “what can be done when the instrumental reduction of technē devolves into a source of political and existential peril”(Tuckwell 2019).


  • Benjamin, Walter, and Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (first Version).” Grey Room 39 (2010): 10–37. Web.
  • Tuckwell, Jason. 2019. “Agency and technē in creative practice.” Seminar Transmission in Motion, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, 13 November 2019.