In the evolution of creative work, the role of individuals in creating new practices and of disciplines in providing tools and methodologies to be reworked is well understood. But the essential role that institutions play in making it possible for individuals and disciplines to come into contact and flourish can be more difficult to recognize. An accurate history of 20th-century developments related to ITCP would counter the widespread but false impression that there has been a renaissance of creativity enabled uniquely by the computer, and would make clear that a gradual development of new institutions, especially the studio-laboratory, has also played a central role.

The term “renaissance,” though, may in fact be appropriate, because the role of institutions in the last century parallels the central, often unrecognized role that they played in the Renaissance. In 1950, art historian Erwin Panofsky pointed out that the age of Leonardo and Durer was one of turbulence, decompartmentalization, and in particular great social mobility after the cloistered separation of the Medieval worlds of theory and practice. The great advances, he added, were indeed made by the instrument makers, artists, and engineers, not the professors. But what made this possible were new institutions, like the academies, that served as “transmission belts” between previously separated domains of knowledge and practice. Perhaps blinded by the brilliance of the rare figure of the da Vincian creator, one may lose sight of the importance of the dilettanti who frequented the academies—people who were “interested in many things.”3 Today’s studio-laboratories are similarly populated.

If the current era is, like Panofsky’s Renaissance, a period of hybridity and interdisciplinarity, then it can also be described as a period where, in many different, local places, experts of diverse kinds, interested in “many things,” meet and learn from one another. The late 20th century has generally been described as a period of postmodernism, in which the stable values of the past were no longer pertinent and were being replaced by a medley of ideas from different sources. Instead of taking the general view that sees ideas as hopelessly jumbled together, one can look for the complex dynamics that arise when specific ideas come into contact with each other at a variety of local, concrete places. This perspective corresponds with recent trends in social theory, in which there is less focus on the individual


Erwin Panofsky, 1952, “Artist, Scientist, Genius. Notes on the Renaissance Dammerung,” The Renaissance: A Symposium, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

An accurate history of the 20th century would counter the widespread but false impression that there has been a renaissance of creativity enabled uniquely by the computer.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement