IM2: Reading Assignment


A Companion to Digital Art by Christine Paul – Aesthetics of Digital Art

From this reading, I realised that the aesthetics of digital art is different from just aesthetics itself. Aesthetics, by the definition from the Oxford Dictionary, is the branch of philosophy that studies the principles of beauty, especially in art. However, aesthetics in digital art is way more than just beauty. “Aesthetics” in the context of digital art becomes more of a theory rather than a concept because of the several mathematical approaches that it takes (take for instance, numerical aesthetics, which talks about using several variables to form relationships/formulas that can determine the aesthetics).

One chapter in the book talks about “Computational Aesthetics”. The authors M. Beatrice Fazi and Matthew Fuller stated that:

Digital art, however, builds upon and works through the computational, sharing its limits and potentials while also inheriting conceptual histories and contexts of practice. For this reason, we contend that an aesthetics of digital art is, at a fundamental level, a computational aesthetics.

I agree with their thesis. As technology is being incorporated into art, aesthetics becomes more than just about the visual elements, as compared to fine arts where you can only judge based on the visual elements because that’s the purpose of fine art pieces such as paintings or sculptures. When deciding whether a digital art piece is aesthetic, I think it is  important to look at the process and the method of how the digital artwork is being made to determine its aesthetic value. For digital art, I think it is essential that the role of the computer is recognised as part of the work’s meaning. Paul Crowther more or less agrees with the same view as he mentioned in his paper ‘The Aesthetics of Digital Art’ that, “The aesthetics of electronic or digital artwork hinges, to a large extent, on non-visual aspects such as narrativity, processuality, performativity, generativity, interactivity, or machinic qualities.”

Similar to how Dieter Rams came up with 10 principles to determine a “good design”, Fazi and Fuller proposed 10 aspects of “computation aesthetics”, which can be used as general benchmarks to determine if the computational structure used in a digital artwork is aesthetic. It is stated that “If aesthetics can be understood as a theory of how experience is constructed, then this list attempts to account for some of the modalities of the computational that partake in such constructions.” The 10 aspects are as follow:

  1. Abstraction and concreteness
  2. Universality
  3. Discreteness
  4. Axiomatics
  5. Numbers
  6. Limits
  7. Speeds
  8. Scale
  9. Logical Equilvalence
  10. Memory

I think that by having these criteria is useful in evaluating aesthetic value of digital art. These ensure that there is an objective standard to the way digital artworks are perceived.

I also particularly like this definition of digital art in the book:

Digital art, however, is potentially time‐based, dynamic, and non‐linear: even if a project is not interactive in the sense that it requires direct engagement, the viewer may look at a visualization driven by real‐time data flow from the Internet that will never repeat itself, or a database‐driven project that continuously reconfigures itself over time. A viewer who spends only a minute or two with a digital artwork might see only one configuration of an essentially non‐linear project. The context and logic of a particular sequence may remain unclear.

I think this is an important aspect to digital art, particularly interactive art. The possibility of various outcomes from a single art piece is fascinating, and this makes it “aesthetic”.

Books for reference:


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