Cartography is a subject that has struggled against the test of time, yet continues to fight for its standing among the arts. With its origins starting around the same period of recorded history, continuing to modern times and its use by the public at large. The usefulness of maps has also changed. What was once used as a means of charting, categorizing, exploring and dominating new and uncharted lands, has undergone many changes. these changes have not only been to the formatting of maps and the process used in their development, but also in the context, purpose and subjects.
Ironically maps lost their place in the rapidly changing world for a few decades, it was the creation and development of the Global Positioning Systems brought maps into the new age. The purpose of these new maps is to do what maps do best, identify a destination, and demonstrate the best rout to that location. And while the function of these maps have remained the same, the way they are now manifested is drastically different. What was once a sheet of paper, or a book is now a few bites of memory, or a portable screen, capable of changing what is displayed and identifying the current location of the individual. These maps also posses the ability to change in scale and show anything between the world as a whole or the view of a small town or city, they are even able to show the streets as the individual may see them upon their arrival. These maps also have changed in what is being mapped, ranging from nations, locations, and buildings, to figures, statistics, and thoughts. These new maps are used by such a wide range of peoples, for such a broad range of purposes. Companies may use them for the purpose of showing sales, those in the medical profession may use them to show the rise and decline in the health of a patient. Students use them to map out time and their educational careers when looking to select classes.
What’s truly changed is not the map itself, but the idea of the map. truly everything, and every aspect of life can be represented on a map. Cartography has always been saddled between the realms of Art and Science, and the discussion about the direct placement of cartography began during the enlightenment period. it can be argued that the primary placement of maps should be placed in the field of the sciences, as maps are considered to be the product of facts, and solid information, while the arts –in general–tend to be concerned with the visual aesthetics of a product. Early maps utilised both aspects producing visually alluring and informative products that while capable of providing an immense amount of information by the use of keys and symbols, were descriptive in physical the forms of a location. However as the sciences began to progress into further development and hold greater prominence in society the maps began to lose some of their artistic characteristics, such as the scrawling calligraphy, representations of myth and monster, and the frivolous decor that can only be made meaningful through theorisation or an in depth knowledge of history of the time, and both the place the map was made of and came from.
While practical cartography and map making lost interest in the aesthetic values that were instilled by the arts, the arts did not lose interest in mapping. From the Avant-garde, the Surrealists, to Pop and Conceptual art, cartography has not only been a tool in the production of arts, but a subject of study as well. It has been a tool in the process of creation, such as with gridding, and the use of viewfinders, as an element of study, with aerial photography and collage, and a means of exploring and developing concepts that lay at the boundaries of art. Artist who currently explore the field of cartography use it as a means of mapping out concepts and ideas that sit in the realm of the abstract rather than the physical and concrete; such concepts as time, memory, and change. Mapping has gone from representing the physical to the abstract.