Computer and Digital Art needs to have its own Art Movements
There is a tradition associated with producing Computer and Digital Art but no grand movements. Richard Adams explains that, as the technology is evolving, the aesthetics need to do the same.
For two years, a long long time ago, in a town far far away, I used to live with a Times 5* review chef, who was an English food specialist. Apart from him teaching me to cook and to match wine and beer with food in ways I didn’t realise you could, one particular thing he said one night has stuck in my mind.
I asked him about English “cuisine” and he replied that we don’t have an English “cuisine.” His point was that the French have a “cuisine” but we have a “tradition.” Whether he was right or wrong, or just impossibly drunk, I can’t say, the semantics of his argument are now lost in the thick mists of time and fine wine induced brain-cell murder, but his point is an interesting one and it resurfaced in my mind when recently discussing Computer and Digital Art.
Computer and Digital Art – A Brief History
Computer and Digital Art (I contend the difference in terms is massively significant) has been around from the start of the 1950’s, that’s over 60 years! You can see a brief history on the V&A site. From Laposky’s early oscillators through the work of one of the pioneering John Lansdown, who founded the department at Middlesex that I attended in the early 90’s (there’s a pic of him working on that site), artists and creatives have been producing art, using tech, for longer than the Impressionist, Post-Impressionists and Cubists were working combined.
During that time, of course, we saw those three great movements develop and flourish and we saw them lay some of the foundations of Modernism that so dominated the Twentieth Century. Yet, during the same length of time that we have been making computer/digital art, have we seen any equivalent movements in computer/digital art?
The technology is new, evolving and radical in its potential. Its effects are being felt politically and economically and it’s dragging us from the machine age to the intelligence age but where are the great cultural movements emerging from it?
Time for a new Movement?
To me, it appears that the main visible effects have been felt primarily in terms of tools and distribution, e.g. the boom in self-publishing and the emergence of 3D printing. So where are the great creative aesthetic movements that previous innovations in tech, such as new paint tech, the invention of oil painting, the development of perspective or the invention of photography, helped to provoke?
My previous article on the failure of Art Schools to really get to grips with the changes was essentially about this very point. Sure they are starting to teach artists to use Data and Interactivity, but where are the great hothouses of innovative thought? Or have we accepted that high art is now one end of the design spectrum and surrendered at the altar of commerciality, doomed to follow stylists (that’s what most designers do as Dave Trott points out in his article “We Don’t need more thinkers, we need more do-ers”) rather than be the thinkers at the edge of philosophy, creativity and humanity?
Like my chef friend I am led to believe that we now have a Computer/Digital Art Tradition but not really a grand movement arising from it, the work is often unmoving, technologically determined and doesn’t fire the soul as the finest French Cuisine can.
Artists and Machines writing new Manifestos for Art
I truly believe that this can change and is changing and there are great artists out there, but it’s a slow grind and without that grand unification of thought, ideological battles fought on the playing fields of tech, we are not producing lasting ideological change. To most creatives over the last two decades, it sometimes seems as if the only battle of ideologies was between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the different flavour of machine they developed that are actually almost identical.
Or maybe, and here’s what I am really interested in, it may only change and a grand movement emerge, when the machines themselves determine the aesthetic and the creativity, such as in the work of David Cope (and many others out there I know).
So, can someone get a computer to write a manifesto for art please or do we have to wait until machine learning will become machine teaching?
Richard is a technologist and Sci-Fi writer. He mainly writes hard sci-fi short stories and series exploring the new machine age and world of data but is currently writing a gory thriller, a story of obsession, love, sex, lust and betrayal. Find out more about his work at www.radams.co.uk.