Q&A: Arthur Hash on Digital Technology

Q&A: Arthur Hash on Digital Technology

Arthur Hash, Beads

For the “Ctrl + P” exhibition, Hash developed his own multi-sided beads using a 3D printer and laser-sintered nylon powder. “As these pieces develop, I can change the length, color, and shape.” Photo: Arthur Hash

Arthur Hash can trace his engagement with digital technology all the way back to his teens: His high school offered both shop and AutoCAD classes, encouraging a cross-disciplinary approach. Today, the artist and innovator is the head of metalsmithing and jewelry design at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, as well as the former coordinator of the SUNY New Paltz MakerBot Innovation Center. He offered us his perspective – as a maker, artist, and educator – on craft and the potential of new technologies.

How do you use digital technology in your work? What is your background with these tools and technologies?
I use laser engraving on enamels. I use wax 3D-printing for precious metal casting. I use CNC for making conforming dies for hydraulic forming and other tool making. I also use CAD for technical layouts and 3D drawing projection.

I came to them at a young age. My high school offered classes in AutoCAD and shop. The instructors encouraged an interdisciplinary approach if you were enrolled in both classes. In shop we had projects like make a better mouse trap or build a better bookshelf.  It was great! Later in college, as an art major, I took CAD courses in the interior design program as I was taking my Crafts/Material Studies courses at Virginia Commonwealth University. Then at Indiana University I took CAD courses to fulfill outside studio credits for my MFA.  

An emerging maxim associated with digital fabrication tech is that it is best
 applied in cases where the hand alone could not have achieved the result.
 Do you agree or disagree?
Everyone uses it differently. I think in some cases that it is true. I have found that for me it has always allowed me to continue to be creative and “make” on the road or when I don’t have access to a studio or certain tools. I feel that its successful integration, however, relies on my years of hand skills and common sense. With experience you know when to use and when it is not needed.

For example, let’s say I need to use 3D printing to make an object that I have never made by hand. Let’s say a complex hinge or a universal ball joint. In my mind I can see these things, but without ever making one it is hard to draw one on the computer – let alone produce a working prototype. Obviously you would research hinges and ball joints and threads before making it by hand or with this technology. You might come to discover that using traditional fabrication/non-technological methods would be faster and you would learn a lot more.

What is most exciting to you about digital technology?
In education, students that take technology courses such as coding, CAD, and electronics concurrently with traditional courses such as seminars, art studio courses will be better prepared to participate in the field in the future. Some of this technology is moving at breakneck speed. Its integration is inevitable. Software is becoming more intuitive. Hardware is becoming affordable.

I’m the most excited when someone that is new to this technology sees its potential and runs with it. I taught an enameling workshop recently at Haystack [Mountain School of Crafts]. The students had to use the laser engraver as new method of mark making on enamel and I think it totally blew their minds.  

You sometimes hear that technology is just a new tool – but there also seem to be some fundamental differences from manual tools. Does digital 
fabrication have the potential to change how we think about making?

Yes. Most certainly. It is an exciting time where anything goes.  In contemporary jewelry a brooch with a piece of cardboard with some gum stuck to a pin back is considered legitimate. 

I find it odd when there is a rejection of work that was made using 3D printing or laser engraving. I understand the difference, but for some reason rejecting technology as a legitimate way of making seems a little childish now. Reading rants on Facebook on how this technology is going to kill craft is much like the vegetarian wearing leather boots. Hello! You are on a computer bitching about how technology is ruining craft!

So the blacksmith that has spent years honing their craft is somehow better than someone who has spent years learning code, learning CAD, building their own 3D printer or CNC and making work? This technology requires the same if not more investment of time to learn and explore. The argument is just silly. Everyone uses tools that were made to make some job easier or more efficient (flex shafts, buffing machine, a torch!).

Your piece should not be about what your tool can do. If you still bring the same spirit into the studio with you then how you make a piece is irrelevant.

Arthur Hash was a featured artist in “Brave New World,” our recent story about digital fabrication technology. Last week, we heard from sculptor Chris Bathgate; stay tuned for more.