“BUT IS IT ART, REALLY?”
Analysis of “Generative Art” with traditional definitions and theories of Art in response to What is Generative Art? (2009) by Margaret A. Boden and Ernest A. Edmonds.
With the introduction of computers and digital systems, “artists” have worked the new technologies and innovation into their works in ways that altered the processes and outcomes of “art-making”. Creating new realms and ranges of works, the article discusses and categorises the type of works into various labels, but placing them under the blanket term “Generative Art”. Throughout the essay, Generative art is pitted against “the precious bubble of fine art”(McCormack, 2003, p.5), where Boden and Edmonds argue for the shift of traditional qualities of art to new effects and results brought about by the innovation and systems in Generative Art. However, if generative art is apparently different (or better) that traditional art, can generative works be considered under the “antique” threshold of art? Using the existing philosophies of art, I will analyse and compare the different aspects of this new field and its role in the art world, corresponding to the questions brought up in the paper (Section V).
Definition of Generative Art
In the paper, generative art is defined as “work that has been produced by the activation of a set of rules and where the artist lets a computer system take over at least some of the decision making”(p.4). It brings about factors of man-machine systems and sets of specified rules into art generation. The artist is now involved in the construction and function of rules, which the autonomy of the results or artworks is passed over to the system. The rules define the form of the work. The “desired” outcome(s) comes in various sequences, which at most times, is diverse and unpredictable unless carefully controlled. Randomness is a quality of generative art, which traditional art lacks.
Generative art enables “the artist to concentrate on the underlying rules themselves: the structures that define the artwork, as against the surface” (p.7). While the power and variety of art practices “outside the bubble that are grounded in technologies for communication and information processing”(p.2) have grown, there is yet “a satisfactory critical framework” (Candy and Edmonds, 2002, p.266) for the new forms in art technology.
Generative Art and Theories of Art
For generative art to be considered as art, we need to look into the traditional workings within the bubble and explore new considerations for artistic critique of the generated systems and works. In response to the philosophical issues raised in Section V of the paper, I would like to go in depth with the defining aspects of Art.
The first point of consideration in Generative Art is the autonomy of art. Can autonomy be ascribed from the artist to the computer? In Leo Tolstoy’s “What is Art?” (1897), art is defined by its ability to express and communicate emotion. Critics argue that computers lack the expression and communication of human experience, so can its independence as a system without the artist’s touch convey the emotive or expressive quality of art? “Does it really matter what the ’feel’ of this activity is, if in fact it is no less directive, no less determinate, than algorithmic programming?” (p. 20). The emotive quality is still subjective to the intentions and context of the work and the removal of the artist’s touch is still an issue faced by generative works in the use of cybernetics to communicate with the audience.
Another aspect of art is authorship and ontology, where the lines are blurred in generative art. When the role of the artist and system is reversed, where the artist determines the rules and the system generates the art, how can we identify “the artwork” and its true author? Traditional works of art have distinct stylistic features that traces back to the artist, who has a full understanding of the formal qualities of the work. Generative art, on the other hand, with the randomness of the generated outcomes do not have full comprehension behind the produced works, that is if the product is considered the art work. However, as art moves into the modern world, there is a shift from forms to processes that defines an art work for example, Jackson Pollocks’s drip paintings and Sol LeWitt’s conceptual instruction works. In generative art, is the artwork the production (generation) or the product (generated)? There seems to be a pivotal shift in what is considered art, a key consideration when developing a critical framework. The artist has complete understanding and control over the art system (which comprises the artist, the program, the technological installation and its intention), and thus, should be focal to the critique of generative art.
Another question raised when approaching Generative Art is where does the creativity lie. Creativity is inseparable from fine art, as Clement Greenberg in “On Modernist Painting” (1960) argues that artistic mediums should “seek that which makes it unique among the possible mediums ” and exists as “the expression of its own uniqueness as a form”. While it may be hard to identify distinctiveness in the numerous generated outcomes, however, can art involve unpredictability as creativity? The appeal of complex systems is resulted from the “lack of predictive power” of the human mind and its innovative uses can open new fields of creativity. By introducing variety of interestingly different technologies, generative art is established by the higher range and unpredictability of outcomes of the system which engages the audience. Thus, the innovation of the art system and its components can serve as a new criteria of creativity in artworks.
The final and unavoidable quality of artworks is the aesthetic evaluation and artistic value. With the art system being the art work, how do we judge the “beauty” in generative art? This consideration is especially relevant when critiquing interactive art, where the experience is produce in response to behaviour of the audience with or within the system. The paper argues that “the familiar inside the bubble criteria” is secondary when analysing different interactive installations. The artistic focus should not be on the nature of the resulting artwork but on the nature of the interaction. An example of an aesthetically valuable interaction is Virtual-Reality art. VR art is a technological simulation that either mimic reality or create a disturbing sense of unreality, which is similar to the explorations in traditional movements of realism and surrealism. Can VR art be aesthetically critiqued in the same way as realistic and surrealistic works? Using the formal qualities (colour, form, subject matter, etc) of art works as a basis of critique in the emotions evoked, new aspects (sound, motion, interaction, etc.) of the out-of-world experience would have to be considered.
With the shift of the artwork from outcome to the process and system, new understandings of the workings should be paid careful attention to. To critically analyse generative art, the audience should have an understanding of the details of the programs and communications involved in the constructed system of rules and technologies, which can be conveyed by the artist. Using and bending the traditional philosophies of art, a critical framework can be developed to assess the effectiveness and quality of generative works. By changing the perspectives and focus within the relationship between the art work, the artist and the art system, the nature of innovation and interaction between audience and the work can be defined for its emotive quality, authorship, creativity and artistic creation.
Boden, Margaret and Ernest Edmonds. “What is Generative Art.” Digital Creativity, 20, No. 1-2, 2009: 21-46. Received from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.458.8471&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Tolstoy, Leo (1995 ). What is Art? (Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). London: Penguin. pp. 3–4.
Greenberg, C. (1965). Modernist painting. Art and Literature, 4, 193-201.