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Computer Art, Technology, and the Medium

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Abstract

Technological advancements often lead to revolutions in the creation of art; but, what is unclear is whether such advancements always correspond to revolutions regarding the artistic medium. The notion of an artistic medium is central to our thinking about, engagement with, and appreciation of art. Accounts of the interpretation, understanding, and experience of art must at some point grapple with the role of the artistic medium against such endeavors. Moreover, artists do not choose their medium by accident, but presumably do so with an eye to the specific and unique affordances of their chosen medium. This chapter will explore the ways in which technology affects these issues. One question we could ask is, when does some technology itself become a new artistic medium? Some technological advancements result in the creation of a new artistic medium—like photography—while others do not—like procedural music. Finding “technology” itself to be too broad of a concept to define a distinctive and theoretically useful notion of an artistic medium, this chapter will examine generally what sort of barriers or challenges one might face when thinking of different technologies as themselves constituting an artistic medium. Specific attention will be paid to the notion of the medium and the theoretical and aesthetic work that such a notion plays in regard to works of computer art.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It may seem strange to question whether computer art counts as art. Indeed, one might insist that, because the phrase “computer art” already contains the word “art” within it, then the issue seems to have already been settled. However, we should also notice that the word “art” is sometimes used to refer to things that are not considered to be in the category art—consider phrases like “culinary arts”, “martial arts”, and “the art of conversation”. Despite the appearance of the word “art” in these, we may still wonder whether food, fights, and conversation should count as art proper. It is also worth noticing that there has been much debate surrounding the art-status of “conceptual art”. So, the linguistic use of the word “art” does not offer good guidance for delimiting the concept art. I ask the reader to treat “computer art” as a phrase that refers to a certain set of objects, whose art-status is in question.

  2. 2.

    This is not intended as a criticism of Chalmers’ account. The definition of interactivity that he offers works perfectly well for his purposes. The point to notice here, however, is that a weak definition of interactivity would not suffice as a distinctive feature for computer art.

  3. 3.

    Though some comments in his (1982) seem to suggest that Beardsley later changed his mind. Thanks to an anonymous reader for pointing this out.

  4. 4.

    However, even this claim might seem too strong. One might object that the medium becomes a relevant consideration for the appreciation of any object—whether it is art or not—whenever any material is modified or presented with the intention of producing aesthetic properties. (Thanks to an anonymous reader for posing this question.) This suggestion is also intuitively plausible and many cases would seem to confirm it. For instance, one might think that a cook works in the medium of food (this is the reader’s example), a fashion designer works in the medium of textiles, and a florist works in the medium of flowers. In each of these cases, some material is manipulated with the intention of producing some aesthetic effect and it is entirely appropriate for the consumer of such objects to turn their attention to the producer’s handling of that material. So, there seem to be cases where concern for the medium occurs outside of the domain of art. However, in response to this objection, it is important to notice that such aesthetic activities (cooking, fashion design, flower arranging) could be defended as distinct art forms on the basis that such objects are intentionally produced to achieve certain aesthetic effects. Indeed, many theorists would be tempted to grant art-status to objects that are made and presented with the intention of producing aesthetic properties. The upshot of this is that the concept art is so bound up with the notion of a medium that we are tempted to call something “art” whenever we turn our aesthetic attention to its material. Thus, I believe we are still justified in considering the weaker claim made here.

  5. 5.

    I believe the point here may pose a further problem for Lopes’ (2014) buck-passing theory of art. If computer art does not have a medium, then it is not art on the buck-passing theory; and computer art cannot have a medium unless we already count it as art. So, buck-passers seem unable to account for computer art. (I thank an anonymous reader for this suggestion.) Unfortunately, I do not have the space to consider this line of argument further here, but see my Bartel and Kwong (2021) for critical discussion of Lopes’ buck-passing theory.

  6. 6.

    https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/unilever-series/unilever-series-carsten-holler-test-site

  7. 7.

    For a brief defense of art eliminativism, see Bartel and Kwong (2021).

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Bartel, C. (2022). Computer Art, Technology, and the Medium. In: Terrone, E., Tripodi, V. (eds) Being and Value in Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88793-3_7

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