The problems that computer mediated art poses hark back to the problems that Descartes posed for us in the 16th century. Therefore what computer art presents us is a crisis in epistemology. [Click on your grant writing processors here!]
For Descartes only one kind of true knowledge existed, that was certain knowledge. For us there is only uncertain knowledge as the foundation stones of our civilization transform under our nervous feet.
What Descartes sought was truth, by the application of a right method to a search that would result in a well-ordered philosophical system.
While he doubted, he did not doubt all things.
We doubt even our own senses, paradoxing ourselves on our uncertain on our alters of uncertainty and living in the trance state that results from it.
For Descartes philosophy was a system of connected scientific truths organized in such a way that no one in their right mind could avoid the progression of truths self evident in other truths so that the only knowledge there is certain and evident knowledge provided by the one scientific method provided by the one science.
Juxtaposed to the above are the increased abstraction of art and work and the increase in mediation knowledge and more importantly the underlying implication of what constitutes knowledge.
What increasingly constitutes knowledge is no longer sensually based and is context less. Increasingly knowledge is contextualized only with great effort.
In precomputerized knowledge, belief was a seamless extension of sensory experience.
Now the body no longer acts on the world directly and relationships become mediated by information systems and the body is separated from the phenomenal by the data interface.
The mediational nature of computer art is that the image is perceived through a data interface, a symbolic medium through which effects are produced and on the basis of which one derives an interpretation of what is seen.
These symbols are abstractions experienced as remote form sensory reality. This remoteness in the new media means the produced image for which the computer artist has claims, as an aesthetic object is not felt to be legitimate, in terms of the classic art historical view. Computer art lifts the image from meaningful context where the image must be regarded as in-itself where meaning is problematic.
Significance is not a transparent feature of the data from the system; rather, significance is a construction that emerges from the application of intellectual skill to the available data.
The computer is an interpolator between artist and action; it represents to the artist his effects on the world.
But the execution is indirect and the question nags at the gut. Has the artist really done anything? Perhaps the artist did something perhaps not. It mirrors the brittle relationships between cause and effect. It is an epistemological distress and computer art and the computer artist is cut off from the context of action in which there is certain knowledge.
The reference system has changed, as the image is not linked to reality. There is no paint, canvas, film, marble, or “physical aesthetic object”. Just bits.
Computer art occurs in an encapsulated formal space, usually, at this time at least, on a screen unrelated to the general knowledge of art production.
Computer art then is intellectually centered not action centered. What computer art suggest is an all-encompassing sensorium of simulation. A virtual abstract space, governed by an underlying AI, or rule based system in an interactive syntharium, such as in the computer game Unreal.
Ultimately this suggests that the artist, as we have come to know him, is in fact no longer necessary, and will in the future be replaced by the technical requirements of an interactive environment and teams of programmers. Art then is becoming a collective endeavor much like film, special effects, a computer game, or interactive theme park ride.