I have been fascinated with this image from the fifteenth century by Paulo Uccello. Of course the image predates computers by many centuries, yet it so accurately prefigures the wireframe animations of today that it is difficult to imagine its true age. Records of Uccello paint a picture of a man consumed by a desire to represent the three dimensional world in two dimensional space.
Whether Uccello and others Renaissance thinkers like Raphael and DaVinci discovered–or invented–perspective is a philosophical question, but it is clear that this system of representing form in space marked a dramatic shift in the way humans thought about their surroundings. This system is still vital to contemporary artists and designers. What has changed is that today, very few images and objects are untouched by machines and electronics. From the oil painter working from a digital photograph to the latest suburban home designed with CAD software, computers are everywhere to help us understand, represent and now even recreate 3D forms and space.
Last weekend I visited an awesome mini-maker fair in Cincinnati, OH and played with robots (including R2D2) and awesome gadgets. But by far the main attraction was 3D printers. At every other table small machines were churning out tiny vessels, toys, letters, and other objects large and small. Could 3D printing revolutionize the creation and consumption of objects, the way advances in linear perspective–and later mechanical reproduction–revolutionized images? Here are some downloadable files of chalices from thingverse.com, so that you can print your own plastic chalice at home. What would Uccello think?!