Emphasis, Abstraction and Richness

Posted: January 28, 2012 at 11:09 am

My reply to Marius’s response:

(A) I hope my discussion of a continuum between conceptual and formal was not missed. I do think there is a continuity of practise, and that it’s perhaps more a question of emphasis on form or content than anything. Most work would fall somewhere between the extreme poles.

How is Casey Reas’s use of rules-based generative form different from anyone else’s? All artists using software must manifest their intention in the software rules. Or are you saying that in Casey Reas’s case the rules are in themselves artistic propositions, and in the case of some others perhaps are arbitrary choices without (with less?) artistic merit? If the rules are artistic propositions then should those rules not be available to the viewer? (I have not had the chance to see an exhibition of Reas in person.)

(B) Is it fair to say your work is an exploration of the field of mathematically generated form? So the work is in  the visual presentation and an image produced by the same program with different variables would be a different work? (The work is the result, not the process). Your approach of artistic research through living (reading and exploring structures and forms of culture) is well described. Your work clearly emphasizes form. I agree that does not make it shallow, but it does make it different (to some degree) from my own work.

If the “conceptual framework” for evolutionary art is genetics, and for my own current work cognitive and neuro science of dreaming, then perhaps the conceptual framework for generative work than emphasizes form is simply mathematics, the study and exploration of pure abstract form. It seems to me there is something quite different about this framework from the others. I never studied in ‘real’ math, so Its hard for me to articulate. I think of science as a culturally constructed and rigorous way of conceptualizing the world and ourselves. By reflecting on that tradition I am engaging in notions of the representation of the world. Math is used in science to model the world, but that is quite different than the work of pure math as an exploration of totally abstract space and forms.

Abstraction is an interesting in this context. I think of it as the process of removing detail from a representation (of something in the world) to end up with its essential attributes (like a mathematical model). Then there is the notion of abstraction in visual art, that often means non-representational. I’ll return to this later.

Could you elaborate on “I consider concepts as having form just as much as I do colors and layouts.”? In dealing with brain sciences, and the question of meaning, I’ve been unsure of the distinction between “form” and “content” where “form” is the skin, and the “content” is the “message”. I’m playing through the notion of materialism, where the “content” or the “message” are both reducible to form, that is the physical structure of the brain. If you mean form as in aesthetics, that a bad concept (ugly idea) is possible, then I think I agree. There are certainly aspects of aesthetics in ideas and processes. I’m not sure this is the same as “form” though.

(C) I’m using that label (Generative Art) because I’m just now situating my work in relation to it. Actually I’m self-labelled as an “electronic media artist”, and I don’t think I would take on the “generative artist” label, though I’m thinking through my work as being generative (in Philip Galanter’s sense of procedurally derived). For more on my choices of that label see Chapter 2 of my M.Sc. thesis.

I think of the generative art label as describing an emphasis on the algorithmic process of form making. If the form is what is important for your work then this is “how”, if the process is what is important in your work (as it is in my case) then it is “what”. For me, a generative artwork is, at its essential level, a materially embodied process. For me, the process, and the context of that process in traditions from art and science, is the emphasis.

Since you are bringing up “Software Abstraction” here, I’ll continue my earlier thought. Does abstraction mean the reduction of details of representation to get to an essence, or is it non-representational? I suppose it can’t truly be non-representational since it could be considered the representation of the mathematical / computational structures. If the latter is the case, then those mathematical structures are abstractions as they were derived from the behaviour of the world (perhaps arguable), which makes the second option a version of the first, simply a few more steps removed, or further formalized.

I find your definition of “Software Abstraction” to be quite concise and relates well to (what I know of) your work. The emphasis is on the production of form—yes with an awareness of process. I wonder what Verostko would say in response (I hope you watched the keynote). He had another term I can’t quite recall, but does accept the “generative art” label. I think his emphasis on form is congruent with what your talking about. Why “software” and not “computation” (which could be manifested in hardware) or “algorithmic”? Why not “Software Abstract Art” or “Abstract Software Art”? (the lack of the word art is interesting). Would you say that the bulk of the art labelled as “generative” would fit under this new label? (I get the impression it would.) If the aim is to stake a claim within “generative art” that differs (or is it a counter movement?) is “Software Abstraction” a subset of generative art?

(D) I think the weak and strong “generative art” idea is interesting. In practise “strong” AI, often means “real” or “successful” and implies we’ve figured out intelligence, while “weak” AI is the day to day systems that actually get stuff done and are feasible. Those notions don’t apply well to generative art as you describe. I think my notion of emphasis is more useful, as it implies a space between form and concept (there is a massive gap between strong and weak AI). That being said, I’ve conceded that mathematics can be considered a conceptual framework for generative art, and is, therefore, no less conceptual. If both scientific models and pure mathematics are derived from the world, and are intrinsically representational, then perhaps that relation needs to be fleshed out. Pure math is more highly abstracted from the world than science models (to the point that math is a language that need not be considered in relation to the world, which does not make sense for a scientific model of a worldly phenomena).

Let me dispel the notion that I think because my work makes use of scientific theories that I think it is in any way objective or more “truthful”. In fact I consider science as just another cultural practice with its own history and methods that are no less embedded in daily phenomenological experience and subjectivity. It just occurred to me another word a former prof used: “richness”. The use of scientific theories and notions and the contextualization of the work in a broad scientific and cultural context enriches it. I’m only interested in machine logic in so far as scientific (and cultural) notions of ourselves are described in those terms. It is not the machine logic in itself that interests me, it’s what that logic means, both as a production of our intellect, and as a tool with which to understand ourselves.

If you’re a form junkie, then I suppose I’m a junkie for meaning and the complexity and richness of human knowledge.