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Art As A Theme Park Ride

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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.

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About Brian Weaver

  • Eric Olsen

    Brian, damn are you weird, but in a good way. As a reformed philosophy major (among others), I can dig it. Another fascinating post, thanks!

  • Digital art requires an entirely different mindset than physical art. Where I see the most problems with digital art is the result of an artist associated with physical art attempting to replicate what he/she does with their chosen media in a computer. This is a pointless exercise. I have never understood why it’s necessary to have the computer do what you could have done much easier – and cheaper – with real art goods.

    I am a graphic artist myself. By day I do web-design, and in my free-time and when the mood strikes, I create digital artwork using Photoshop and Illustrator.
    Instead of attempting to recreate what a brush and canvas could conjure, I practice attempting to do something impossible with traditional media – something I can’t possibly do in the physical world. I also refuse to employ any 3D means. 3D is math to me, and offers me nothing intriguing or even slightly artistic. But there are countless possiblities that Photoshop offers that could never be created in the real world. Few artists seem to be exploring this realm and are instead intent upon writing programs to create art autonomously, or are hung up on recreating traditional techniques using Painter. This cheapens what can become of digital art.

    I think a big problem is represented by this post – people are trying to use digital art to represent more than it really does. You’re getting too caught up in the digital nature of the art and forgetting that at it’s core it’s still art. What I create is still spontaneous – I start with a blank canvas in Photoshop, usually set at a very high resolution (600dpi) and a large size (10″ x 10″, say.) Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess – just like with abstract painting. At some point I arrive at something that means something to me, usually many hours later. Tell me how this differs fundamentally from art in the real world. It doesn’t. Getting caught up in the ethereality of the digital, virtual world just distances the artist that much more from the job at hand. In essence, I’m saying I don’t buy your argument because it grounds out as meaningless when it’s taken apart. It’s philosophically intriguing, but speaking as a real digital artist myself, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t focus on it not being “real.” This is like saying that people who meet online and know each other online are never really friends. How can that be true? They communicate, they interact, so how are they not friends? The same can be asked of art. If it doesn’t communicate and it doesn’t interact with the viewer then if fails not because it’s digital – it fails because it’s bad art.