We see so resolutely from our own perspective. How can we do otherwise?

Digital art is all interface, defined entirely by the experience of its viewing or use. So say Bolter and Gromala on page 11 of their new book, writing as a critic-theorist and a curator, though Gromala is also an artist. I might describe digital art the same way, because this is how I experience it. I’m a user, I’m the audience, I’m a critic. (Mind you, a lot of digital art fails to (if it even tries to) convey anything interesting in its interface, you need the surrounding texts and explanations. Other digital art has a content that is not simply the interface, but is a story, for instance, or images. I find the interface and the way the user relates to the work immensely interesting (it’s what my PhD thesis is about, basically) but there are other sides of digital art as well. But this post is about absolute defintions, not nuances.)

A few weeks ago, at Martin and Mattias‘s dinner, a digital artist defined digital in almost exactly the opposite way to Bolter and Gromala. Ellen R¯ed works with real time video, programming software “instruments” that she plays in performance, so video images distort, move, dance, disturb across the screen the audience is watching.

Digital art is all about the process, she said. What the audience end up seeing is nothing but the waste materials (slaggproduktene) that are left over. As a member of her audience, I feel rather offended at a definition like that. If the artwork is the process, shouldn’t the process be somehow communicated? But this definition doesn’t see art as communication.

I wonder if you could write an academic paper without a single definition or claim in it, and for that paper to still be good, useful, productive? Do you know of writing like that? Or is the very idea a tautology?

5 thoughts on “defining art

  1. Rayne

    Art is dualism. It’s both process and results; we as observer appreciate the statement, but we also appreciate the process by which the statement was made. Without process there is no result; no results give us no sign of the process which we appreciate.

  2. k

    Hey, This is an interesting post, this notion of digital art being all about interface, or all about process. How silly! This is a standard question which in the broader art world goes way back. Interface vs. Process > Concept vs Aesthetic. This was a huge issue in postmodernism [1], and today, as we port art to networks and digital, is just as important. We also have techno-formalism (code machismo) vs. narrative (content is king). The answer, imho depends on the intent on the author, his/her piece, and the leanings of the viewer/critic. Or…how about both?

    For example – of course a data visualization project is going to be all about the end product. But, say this work is building a visualization off of ‘screen-scraping’ live news feeds? – that would make it process oriented too wouldn’t you say?

    Writing code is process. Running code is process. But, the end product, usually the only part a typical person gets to see when all the churning is done, the part the gets plopped into the interface and out onto the screen, that part is product. It is most important if you want to get your ideas out, but, it is just not going to happen until something happens (process) to get it there.

    You could easily look at Ellen R¯ed’s comment to be her view from the perspective of the artist making the work. An inside perspective which to her is far more interesting. Most digital artists who dive into code are very into the control and flow of the software they create, so much so that the end visualization is not (as) significant.

    So process is necessary for code to run, and also, process may be necessary for a project to work: Think of protocol, what it is, how important it is to the proper functioning of any networked system. [2]

    Also think about the reason we code, and the reason we build protocologically oriented systems – to get/filter a message from A to B, or A to B to C etc… Every time you have passage from one to another – poof there is your interface. You are right to be offended when an artist snubs his/her nose at the product he/she has created for your viewing and critique. Thats almost like saying – the user/viewer is insignificant, -a bit self serving no? Like you say – art is communication.

    So, my response to your post, process vs. output, like you hinted at — how about both?

    Ok. Tautologically, I could go on and on about this. It is most fun, and my comment, like opting for one over the other in any final definition, is only scratching the surface!


    [1] – Like: Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster.

    [2] – A good background on some process oriented work can be found in – Networked Art by Craig Saper, University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

  3. real icon

    You can’t have light without darkness – you can’t have darkness without light. In other words: I cannot depict the movement of my thoughts, the dynamic of my arguments in an academic paper without introducing some basic points of orientation which make these movements visible.

    Concerning the relationship of art and audience – well, I think it really depends on the point of view you take. The artist’s? The audience’s? The one of the work of art itself (if that point of view exists)? Statements trying to limit relationships too strictly to a certain pattern always seems suspicious to me if they are concerning art.

  4. Jill

    I like both and.

    Which interestingly is a phrase that’s easier to express in Scandinavian than in English. BÂde og as well as enten eller as Kierkegaard wrote. I think the traditional translation is and and and which just doesn’t quite do it to my mind.

    Room to move.

  5. Graziano Laura

    Newness is relative.

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