Artist vs Programmer: How Low Can You Go?

Saying the "artist vs programmer" discussion is "stupid" (I agree, and I can only take so much of this), my friend David asks:
How low level can one go in this contest...

... did the artist develop the "language" they used to write the program to produce the art...

... did the artist write the compiler which compiles the program into machine code which runs the program which displays the art....

... did the artist build the computer which was used to write the program and run the program...

... did the artist build the components for the computer which was used to write the program to ....

... did the artist manufacture the materials used to fabricate the components used for the computer....blah, blah, blah.

IMHO, it shouldn't matter if the artist is a programmer or not, it is the resulting visual product which matters (unless the artist is into "process" art so in this case, they get all anal about the endless details of how they made such and such widget art object. But then they are really just technicians, much like print makers who only can talk about hand making their own papers from grandma's antique but stained linen bedsheets and using exotic inks made from virtually extinct sea mammals).

FWIW, many programmers feel they are artists as well. They write "elegant," sparse, and minimal code with individual "style." Their code is their art, much akin to poetry.

Pre-developed software is a tool, so are programming development languages. They both are tools which can be used as a means to do interesting things.

- tom moody 10-15-2004 10:57 pm

He's partially right. When someone starts comparing tools they use to build a digital thing this is where the arg usually ends up (actually it usually ends up at assembly language...).

Perhaps people are confusing these two things: are you using the computer as a tool or as the medium?

When your friend states "the resulting visual product is what matters." This means he's using the computer as a tool to a visual end. In this sense it doesn't matter, he could be using a pencil or camera or computer or eggplants to get whatever sort of visual 'product' he's after.

But if one is using a computer as the MEDIUM (not simply a means to a visual end) then it seems one should have an understanding of that medium. And it's arguable that to understand a computer as a medium you really need to be able to program it.

Then of course we can start talking about using computer networks as a medium... :-)
- twhid 10-15-2004 11:28 pm

I've been trying to keep the discussion confined to computer-made art that winds up in the "gallery discourse," or what's left of it. The use of programming in network-based art I consider a slightly different topic. As an example of the former, what is Cory Arcangel "after" in his Nintendo Clouds piece? If it's a big Barnett Newman field he probably could use eggplants (or blue squid ink) to make it. But it's more than that--it's a work where the computer is the tool, the medium, and (at least partially) the subject matter. It succeeds on a pure visual level (a big expanse of seductive blue with some wry found imagery), as a medium (the hacked cartridge as ambient video), AND has something to say to hackers and non-initiates alike about the malleability of (digital) reality, through the subtraction of information from familiar game iconography. Whether someone could arrive at something that successful without a stitch of programming knowledge is I guess the question I'm asking.

- tom moody 10-15-2004 11:50 pm

And I'll have to flesh this out later, but I'd like to pose as an example of a piece that fails on all these levels a work by John Maeda where he digitally sampled every brand of Campbell's soup and made a kind of iterative, vibrating composite. No doubt he did his own programming to realize this, but Tom Friedman, at Feature Gallery, had famously achieved the exact same visual effect with an "iterative dollar bill" not long before, using scissors and sheer patience. Friedman's was a very well known piece in the art world--I'll post a scan when I get a chance--an analog design that mimicked digital processes. And what's with Maeda's Campbell's soup reference at this point? Is it supposed to be "deconstructing" Warhol? L-A-M-E.
- tom moody 10-16-2004 12:08 am

as to your last comment:

technical skill never trumps an idea which is simply not good, I think we can all agree on that :-)

Do you have links to Maeda's work? You've referenced him a bunch of times and I feel like I should take a look.
- twhid 10-16-2004 1:22 am

Here's the tomato soup can. Other work from around that time is here (I like 1, 2, and 4 but then he starts to lose me). I couldn't find the Friedman dollar bill online, but there's a similarly done self portrait here (scroll down). It looks like Chuck Close in the jpeg, but in person, at least in the dollar bill piece, the subtle gradations between image "steps" are very trippy and disorienting. And according to the blurb, it involves more than just scissors and patience: "using a complex mathematical process, friedman dissected and re-configured 256 small, identical passport-style photographs into a large abstract self-portrait. the individual self-portraits were cut into 1/4-inch grids based on a series of nearly imperceptible 1/64-inch deviations. the 33,072 resulting squares were arranged, one by one, to create a large magnified, out-of-focus mosaic of the original image. "
- tom moody 10-16-2004 1:35 am

Comparing the soup can to Friedman just now, I'd have to amend my statement to say it's not the exact same thing--Friedman's images are more stretched in space, but they have the same hazy shimmer of the micro-composite. The Maeda is actually more derivative of Jason Salavon's work, who has been making visual composites since the 90s through computer-derived averaging of like images (class pictures, Playboy Playmates, etc.) (And before him, Nancy Burson...) Both Salavon and Friedman are more aware of art history and theory and where their work fits into it than Maeda, who is really a designer with art aspirations. (Yet who is showing at the London ICA and the Fondation Cartier as an artist, for reasons I don't entirely fathom.)
- tom moody 10-16-2004 1:56 am

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