Sunday, January 17, 2010

Code and Art

Programming is simultaneously the problem with and the source of digital art's potential. With culture the abundance of digital solutions is directly related to the fact that coding is so intensely creative. Those who can love to code, so they flood the world with every conceivable image, animation, architecture, or other art form built with code. Programming is a thoroughly rewarding creative process. It's unstoppable because it's so completely satisfying to produce. It sustains innovation. The problem for digital artists is that though we can feel the emotion that goes into a song, painting, film, or novel, we can't empathize with the act of programming. Apparently devoid of emotion, the digital visual product is cold. The coded digital image, at home on the Internet, appears out of place in museums and galleries.

Another problem is with the attribution of the art to the artist. Writers, musicians, painters, directors, and architects don't have this problem. Digital art is more difficult. You never know how much credit to give to the hardware, the compiler, the application, the Internet, and the thousands of engineers that contributed to making it possible. Even if you program you're not apt to know quite how much credit to give the artist for an interesting image.

Coding is incomprehensible to those who don't, so a programmed image blocks potential empathy for the real creativity behind the image. Looking at a digital print, we're no more interested in the creativity of the coding than we are in the coding behind our browser app. We're satisfied if our browser works as well as other applications, and we'd be satisfied if a digital image could hold up against all other images, digital or otherwise. Again, even if you program you're not apt to credit an artist for their code.

A solution that has been tried is a programmatically arranged massive aggregate of unitized elements. Fractal art is an example. I’ve tried this approach, repeatedly, and I think it’s insufficient. I’ve also tried the creative use of math. This works no better than code with little or widely known math. I doubt there’s anything less appreciated in the Euclidean arts than Euclidean geometry.

The solution might be to animate. I’m confident that this works. Given the immediacy of motion, images come alive with potential for feeling and emotion. I’m concerned that it’s acceptable because it’s film, and not considered programming.

There may be a solution other than animation, but boy do I not know what it is, yet. Digital art can be cold, but coding is anything but. We should reject cold art, but it's an error to deny the process. New media is begging for a solution to this problem. Writers, musicians, cinematographers, and photographers are adapting to digital technology without appearing to abandon their art form. Visual artists alone are stuck with a preference for the hand made, and a prejudice against the machined. MP3s, 3D CG, and Giclée photo prints are acceptable uses of technology. The programmed digital print is not.

See "Human Bodies, Computer Music", by Bob Ostertag.

Onward through the fog. . .

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