Computer Arts Newsletter

From the Author's Perspective: A Philosophy of Computer Art
May 25, 2015 – 07:09 am
An A4 open leaflet that folds

The APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Computers and the ASA Newsletter have worked together to publish a series of joint special issues on the influence of computers on art, a project started by Ewa Bogusz-Boltuc. This issue, and the Winter 2010 issue, of both Newsletters will be based in part around Dom Lopes’ upcoming book, A Philosophy of Computer Art, and reflects the recent interest in computer art more generally.

From the invention of the press, to the elevator, acrylic paint, and the electric guitar, technological progress has helped drive changes in long established art forms (in these cases, literature, architecture, painting, and music), but entirely new art forms (such as the movies) also spring from new technologies. As everybody knows, computers are having a profound impact on the long-established arts, but A Philosophy of Computer Art proposes the bold thesis that computer art is a new art form. It bets that making a case for this thesis sheds light on computer art – and perhaps on the arts more generally.

The book begins by using two conceptions of computer technology to distinguish what may be called “digital art” from “computer art” and to then argue that digital art is not an art form.

Since computers handle information in a common digital code, usually binary code, they are all-purpose representation devices. We use them to make, manipulate, transmit, and display text, music, sound, and images, whether alone or combined in multimedia. Many scholars explore the varied and far reaching implications of this for the established arts. Yet digital stories are still stories, digital images remain images, and digital music is a kind of music. “Digital art” names the disjunction of digital stories, digital images, digital music, and the like.

According to another conception, computers compute. They are designed to run computational processes – to carry inputs into outputs by following formal rules, or algorithms. Works of “computer art” take advantage of computational processing to achieve interactivity. For example, Sustained Coincidence by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer detects the location of its users and controls a series of lights to ensure that they cast overlapping shadows on the gallery wall. The artist reports that “the piece is inspired by phantasmagorias on the one hand and surveillance and digital analysis on the other.” Its operation relies on a computer that gathers information on the work’s users and follows an algorithm to maintain an environment with certain features. In this way, the actions of users help to shape how the work goes.

The main elements of a good description of Sustained Coincidence show up in a definition of computer art. An item is a work of computer art just in case (1) it is art, (2) it is run on a computer, (3) it is interactive, and (4) it is interactive because it is run on a computer. Clauses (3) and (4) distinguish works of computer art like Sustained Coincidence from works of digital art like Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust of Wind or the musical compositions of David Cope’s EMI. Only the first of these is interactive. What does that mean? A work is interactive just in case it prescribes that the actions of its users partly generate its display. Its display? The display of any work of art is some pattern or structure that’s designed in part by the artist and that we attend to in order to ascertain the work’s meaning and aesthetic features. In La Grande Jatte, the display is a marked surface, in Blow-Up, it is any of a number of screenings, and in “It Don’t Mean a Thing, ” it is any of a number of performances. The display of Sustained Coincidence includes any of a number of patterns of illumination and cast shadows. Since these are generated in part by its users, the work is interactive, and this interactivity is mediated by computational processing. Sustained Coincidence a work of computer art, if it is a work of art.

Popular Q&A
What is computational monochromatic art?

As far as I can tell, "computational monochromatic art" is a term coined by software blogger Joel Spolsky. It's just a made-up word that sounds big and technical so he could use it as a placeholder example for topics that software engineers in an interview could get excited about. It appeared in his blog post,

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