Is Programming Art ?

The question was raised on the Rhizome list, and instead of responding there, which would be somewhat pretentious regarding the state of my own craft, i’ll post some remarks here.

It was a particularly good day for nAârt today, Jim Andrews’ insightful remarks on these matters coinciding with the release of the ‘procedural’ art/research interactive drama ‘Façade’, not that i see much nAârtism in the attempts to conquer the entertainment business with the kind of procedural content these researchers have in mind, it seems to be a free download but no code is shared, no attempt is being made to demystify A.I., so the free part is clearly a façade for commercial investment. No, this is more of a negative feed for my nAârt, proving earlier remarks on the aggressive moves of the market on these technologies and the ease with which the media associated with the Libre movement are recuperated by the industry.

More hopefull news came from Tamara Lai who is taking her commendable collaborative project ‘sacrifier le/Sacrifice/sacrificing’ to a new phase in her Chroniques du / Kroniks of / Sacrifice at Building on what could be accomplished, to accomplish more, taking your thoughts further: that’s the true nAârt spirit!

On Rhizome and on programming and art, Jim Andrews wrote, quoting another Belgian first:

“…the aim of all this is to create poetry. So, I like to speak about algorithmic poetry. A poem is a text that procures you poetry if you read it. The code I’m trying to write is a text that procures you poetry if a computer reads it for you….”
Frédéric Durieu

Donald Knuth is a renowned computer scientist, but the idea of ’the art of programming’ as promulgated in a book like that series is terribly outdated.
There are dimensions to contemporary software art that were not anticipated/anticipatable by Knuth. He sees the ‘art’ as consisting in choosing the right algorithms and the right implementations of the right algorithms. *Perhaps* this is true once you decide what the thing is going to do. But it leaves aside the whole question of what the thing is going to do. And why one would want to do such things. And the relation of these things to what’s going on in the world. Programming is now a part of writing. Writing is a broader thing than it was. The art of programming is not simply a craft of design and engineering but involves all the sorts of issues we find in other arts plus its connections with engineering and mathematics, which occur also in other arts where the making is not without relation to things like engineering and mathematics. Such as architecture..”

‘Programming is now part of writing’. Code=text. Imho nothing much further needs to be said on the question. There is no breech with tradition here, only perhaps (hopefully) a merging in part of artistic tradition with scientific/technological tradition. (The consequences are more important than the inevitable ‘no’-answer, like that art implicating code should be free(ly accessible) or not.)

Thus, in a nagging, nerdy, digressing nAârtful repetition:

Authors these days create in natural languages / traditional artistic media plus code. They take the trouble to learn code because they (rightly, imho) think it will enlarge their capabilities of creating something relevant for their art / how their art stands in our society, acknowledging the fact that their work is also part of a machine-readable text.

Hence more craft is needed, more training /research / collaboration. Which imho is a good thing for some of us because in the long run it will change people’s perception of art in our advantage.
Authors relying on craftmanship (if only out of necessity) like musicians have always received more public ‘respect’. Not meaning that anything purely conceptual should automatically be labelled the lesser art, it only means that you can’t force people to ‘like’ conceptual art (or buy it, if that is what you want) or ‘respect’ it the same way they tend to do for ‘well-crafted’ art. The public wants to see you ‘work’, not your ‘work’, no matter how hard you actually worked on it, or how brilliant your ‘work’ is.

Any part of any craft can be ‘artful’, just like any text can contain parts that are thus well crafted that they show artistic aptitude, it doesn’t make the language art, or the text as whole, automatically.

Whether what authors create thus, whether that is ‘art’ is another matter and, eventually, your decision. Modesty is important. The Turbulence Paris collection (works by Nicolas Clauss, Jean-Jacques Birgé, Fredéric Durieu, Jean-Luc Lamarque, Antoine Schmitt and servovalve see ) show some examples leaving little doubt, i think, and the rhizome artbase has plenty more.
But most of us, like me, can only aspire for some artful sort of craftmanship, keeping the door open for the possibility of Art: “In my craft or sullen art”, Dylan Thomas verse is humming there in the background somewhere.

Anyway, the goal is always Art as a contribution to mankind, surely big words for small people but art can only be that or it is not. In that context, Art is an on/off flickering presence invading the individual who is continually expressing the absence of Art, invoking it. The Muses are still valid concepts, much as they are riddled by paradoxes in our present condition.

Paradoxes brought forth by post-modernism that are only paradoxical because they run literally beyond the ‘doxa’ of logic but they should not be swept under the carpet lightly nor should they keep anyone from working, because they are paradoxes that can only be overcome by working in a complete awareness, and with a full aknowledgement of the author as a ‘natural’ processing unit, however feeble her voice may sound in a mechanic desert that seems bent on destroying all individuality or in the commercial media-monstrosity obsessed with recuperation and exploitation of anything from naïve love lyrics to minute screams of despair in the intimacy of our personal longings/households.

True collaboration, a human share in net-lingo, can only begin from the solitude of the individual, its fragmentary-but-complete way of incorporating the world. In that we were all created equal and any lazy or dishonnest approbation, besides being illegal, simply will not work.

There is no pyramid from artist A,B,C and scientist X,Y,Z to artistic/scientific summit N with some Open Source Eye in the middle, there’s only that many differenciated processes engaged in one (or several) proces(ses) that need no goal(s) because they have been started, they only call (order us if you want) to be continued to the best of our abilities.

Continously solving the problem at hand, fed by collective knowledge processed individually. A source open to religion as well for those who wish to practice that, although there is no ‘defining’ need for it, and religious interpretations will always remain a surplus of belief, something ‘outside’ the realm of art, for those inclined to such beliefs.

As such works of Art set recognisable standards to be reached, Art to be emulated, open up the possibility of a Renaissance of sorts, closing the gap between art & society instead of widening it, because a systematic approach of art to science and vica versa on the common ground of code and algorhythmic research will (hopefully) eventually lead to more understanding and therefore better communication of artists/scientists to society and to more humane ways of mechanising society. But there’s a long road ahead, as usual, and time is short.

L’Art est long et le Temps est court.

Charles Baudelaire

One could object that it shows little concern with the real world, thinking on such matters a day after 37 people got killed in the London tragedy, a day that saw the G8 conference ending with yet another postponement of urgently needed relief, declaring the next five years of starving as unaddressable by the worlds current businessplan and having ‘heroes’like Geldhof publicly applauding such cynism.

I think the opposite is true, that artists and scientist alike have the moral obligation to think these matters through urgently, it’s as much our job as helping victims is a fireman’s job, we chose that job so let’s do it thouroughly and start today, because, to quote Jim Andrews again :

what is at stake is whether we have societies in which the machine is simply oppressive of humanity or whether the art of programming can flower into something beautiful not only in the austerity of mathematics but in its
poetic vision for the benefit and joy of humanity.

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