Code as muse

computer art

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* Blais, J., & Ippolito, J. (2006). Code as muse. In At the edge of art (pp.16-55). New York, NY: Thames & Hudson

“Code as muse” is an attempt to make sense of the different approaches artists have to using programming languages as their media for art making. This chapter is focused extensively in artistic approaches to code writing.

The authors explain that the ‘art’ or craft of a computer program has little to do with fine arts. A clean program from a computer scientist or ‘the art of programming’ is only the mastery of a technique. In the other hand, artists would misuse code to create new meanings of the world and our relation to technology.

“If programming is an art, is any programmer with high standards an artist? No.” (p.17)

Scientific discoveries and visualizations such as the Mandelbrot set are important landmarks of this area of study, however, merely image production does not constitute a piece of art. The value of art relies on its meaning, and the production of realistic images using procedural techniques is addressed in the chapter, but also questioned. Art with code has nothing to do with the mastery of the code, in fact, many artists misuse code to produce new meanings and new uses for this medium.

The limitations of software art are constrained by syntax, if the program is not properly written in computer language, it won’t work. One of the most important aspects of this reading is that art-making is not the main purpose of programming languages, and this “code bending” re-purposes the original scientific intent of this tools.

The chapter has a negative bias towards beauty. Computer aesthetics is an important characteristic of the tool and can be used as a catalyst for deeper meanings. It is true that a naive approach to form, without addressing the medium is not worth a lot meaning, but we cannot assume that critical art makes better art. It just makes sense that ‘ugly’ is more critical of the medium than an appealing image. In fact, beauty would seen as a positive outcome of these technologies, therefore non critical. Can art with technology can be critical and aesthetically engaging?

This chapter is an advocate of the misuse of scientific-oriented machines and languages for creative and aesthetic purposes and achieve “the purposeful perversion of code syntax” (p.29).

As these examples indicate, scientific analysis frequently generates images at least as compelling as aesthetic output. Sometimes those with scientific training are to eager to bend their output into a frame defined by art-word norms and don’t recognize the most artistically illuminating option may be to leave the work in the state of a scientific diagram (p.44).

Artists may use simple instructions and code to produce complex visual outputs. It is important that the viewer can make the connection between code and output. The relationship between code and output produces artistic meanings, and for this reason, the code concept needs to be intelligible to the viewers. This could be just an explication of the algorithm, instead of syntax.

“Artists like LeWitt deliberately kept the concepts underlying their works as simple as possible, precisely so that viewers could connect the dots between process and product” (p.40).

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