Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Artistic originality and distance

Manovich makes the distinction between the three types of artists, traditional artists (painters, sculptors, etc.) media artists and software artists. According to Manovich, software artists are new romantics/modernists because they construct art originally, using the building blocks of code. He writes on page 211 that software art goes back to the computer as a programming machine, rather than a media machine, since artists use a programming language, rather than fragments of already constructed media, to create their art. Obviously for Manovich the originality of a work of art depends on the originality of the medium and its potential to create “from scratch.”

So programming and code enable the artist to produce not just a reaction to already existing media, but “an original and subjective view of the world.” (211). This seems problematic to me because of the layered structure of code that Hayles discusses in Speech, Writing, Code. “Programming languages operating at higher levels translate this basic mechanic level of signification into command more closely representing natural language….different levels of code consist of interlocking chains of signifiers and signifieds, with signifieds on one level becoming signifiers on another. “ (45) In the case of the artist, if we interpret programming or code as made up of signifiers that signify commands to the computer, these commands must go through this process of “interlocking” signification to then produce the desired result in the binary code/voltage level that will then be rectified (converted) back into the art that is displayed in the interface. So basically the point is that there is a huge separation/distance between the programmer-artist and what he creates. Manovich seems to be aware of this separation/layering of the computer and questions the control of users of commercial software and video games which base their interfaces on causality: “The more power we delegate to a computer, the more we lose control over what it is doing….How do we know that a computer amplified our actions correctly?” (214) All this raises the question of whether artistic originality depends at all on proximity to the medium. Though Manovich would probably say that distance is irrelevant, it would be interesting to evaluate from Hayles’ perspective the authorship/artist-ship of text in code and programming. Is the separation of the programmer from the signifiers (voltage, according to Hayles) very different from the separation of the writer from the paper by the pen, or the painter from the canvas by the brush? What role do direct manipulation and causality play in creating an original text?

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