“A Philosophy of Computer Art” by Dominic Lopes [Books, Review]

A Philosophy of Computer Art is a text that may interest some readers of creativeapplications.net as it covers the intersection of computing and art, discussing some of the classics of interactive art, and doing a lot of thinking about what art that uses computers actually is. In it Dominic Lopes does several things very well: it divides what he calls “digital art” from “computer art”, and it correlates that second term, which I’ll put in capitals to mark that it’s his term, Computer Art, with interactivity. He also articulates precise arguments for computer art as a new and valid form of art and defends his new term against some of its more tiresome attacks. As a quick example, Paul Virillios concerns about the debilitating effect of “virtual reality” on thought which is more than a little reminiscent of Socratic concerns about the debilitating effect of writing on thought and points to an interesting conclusion: what we call thought is a technologically enhanced phenomena. Note Friedrich Kittler: most human capacities are enhanced in some way or another with no great damage to the notion of “humanity” or “human”. It’s little more than a failure of imagination to thunder about how those augmentations debilitate the natural state of humans. Lopes also makes several extremely astute observations about the nature of interactivity and repeatability, comparing Rodins Thinker, Schuberts “The Erlking”, packs of refrigerator magnet letters, and true interactivity in artwork and concluding that interactive work has distinct characteristics. What he comes to, or what I read him as coming to, is this: a structured and rule based experience is interactive. “A good theory of interaction in art speaks of prescribed user actions. The surface of a painting is altered if it’s knifed, but paintings don’t prescribe that they be vandalized.” Reduced even further: grammar plus entities plus aesthetics equals interactivity. He also makes, to pick just a few, excellent arguments for the interpretive necessity of a view in automated displays, astute observations about the potential value of a computer art criticism, and for the nature of technology as a medium.

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