Some Ways in Which the Emergence of the Computer Has Affected Art

Christopher Lotito, Drew University, 2001

Supplementary Internet


††††††††††† Some of the leading and by far most prolific participants involved in the production of art today have no limbs and no eyes.In fact, these participants lack blood, flesh, and other things which are necessary to the determination of a being as human; this is due to the fact that in these participants are neither humans nor beings, they are machines.One might ask how a machine could affect the artworld as a participant in the production or art, how such a machine could participate in the creation of art at all, and why no such machines existed in the past.On the first question, the answer lies in the second; if a machine is able to become a participant in the production of art then it is a natural state that the participant should have some influence upon the artworld via their product.A machine can be a participant in the production of art in the same numerous ways that a human can, for machines are entirely capable of mimicking many of the movements of man.A few machines have been participants in the production of art in the past, however a distinction must be drawn between participants and tools.Tools are used by humans to manipulate things in the world; participants may also be tools in this case, however they do enough without the direction of humans that it can be said that the machine is more like a servant or a slave than a tool.Tools need to be micromanaged by those that drive them, while participants need merely to be directed and will in time produce a product or a stage of a final product.Since the emergence of computing and other modern technologies there has been an increase in the number of tools which no longer need micromanagement and thus fit more closely the category of participant.In this paper will be discussed the blurring of lines between tool and participant by photo editing software and software that is capable of generating art.


Blurring the Lines Between Tool and Participant : Photo Editing Software

Supplementary Internet editing 1.htm

Examples of technology that enhances art can be seen in the evolution of photo editing software.With photo editing software, one can take a photo or any other digitized picture and change its qualities.For example, a photograph which was taken out of focus may be brought into focus through use of a computer program.

The photograph is art before it is processed by the computer and the processing of the computer renders it a new work of art.Thus, the computer is a participant in the creation of a work of art.In this case, the computer participates predominately as a tool.First, the computer is given a subject and a command (i.e. bring the picture into focus). Next, the computer carries out the command to the best of its ability.This ability is determined by the quality of the software, which is in turn determined by the efforts of the software designer who created the software.In light of this, several questions are raised:What is the role of the computer in this case?Who deserves credit for the creation of an artwork?Is the edited picture a forgery?What is the role of the person who is commanding the computer?

It is determined that the photo editing software creates art in the fulfillment of its purpose, but the same may be said of a paintbrush.Photo editing software is technology that can take a pre-existing image, change its qualities, and thus create a new artwork.A paintbrush is technology that can take a blank canvas or a pre-existing image, change its qualities, and thus create an original artwork.Photo editing software requires a sentient being to use it; a paintbrush requires the same.Both are tools, are made by humans, and are used by humans to create art; it does not seem that a paintbrush is a different kind of technological artistic tool than photo editing software.In fact, the evidence listed previously indicates quite to the contrary.Perhaps instead, the difference is a difference of degree; this is to say that each is a tool, however their qualities differ quite dramatically.This is quite similar to the results of a comparison of a screw-driver and an electric drill:the screwdriver has a very limited use while the electric-drill does the same job as the screwdriver and a bit more as well.Each is a tool, this they have in common, but they are each quite different in the degree of which they fulfill their collective purposes.In applying this to the comparison of the paintbrush and the computer; one will note that the paintbrush requires close management by the artist using it, while the photo editing software requires little management other than initial commands which set in motion a series of actions that lead to the creation of art.Thus, the photo editing software is a tool certainly, no different from the paintbrush in that respect; but the paintbrush requires much more direct effort on the part of the artist, therein lies the difference.

Next one might ask who is to get the credit in the creation of art with photo editing software.Certainly, the software cannot be the artist for several reasons, not the least of which, the fact that the software has the status of a tool.Furthermore, the software lacks important factors that would make it an artist, such as intention.Software cannot have intention because it is not autonomous.†† Software carries out the tasks and processes that have been programmed into it as the user requests them.Likewise with the machine which runs the software; there is no autonomy thus no intention and therefore no artist.So if neither the software nor the machine is the artist, who then is the artist?The answer may be that the person using the software is the artist.This, while logically arguable, somehow seems false when the amount of effort they put into commanding the software with the press of a button is considered.They have both autonomy and intention, both of which are manifest, but they lack the means to create the art or at the least do not utilize them.The art in a technical sense is created by the software which follows its pre-programmed steps when commanded.It could reasonably be supposed that the creator and artist of the end product is in fact the creator of the software.This does not seem incoherent when it is considered that the skills and actions of the software are in fact the recorded skills and actions of the creator of the software, who for these things is most certainly an artist.

††††††††††† Even though it is not the artist, both the software and the computer still maintain a status within the process of creating the art in this case.It seems that since both lack autonomy and intention, and follow a set of pre-programmed guidelines from which they are unable to stray of their own accord that they must fulfill the status of tools.


Art Generating Software: The Mondrian Generator

Supplementary Internet

††††††††††† There are artworks created by the artist Mondrian, a Dutch painter who founded neoplasticism.Mondrianís artworks tend to feature a series of differently sized white boxes with seemingly randomly selected ones filled in with primary colors.There is also a computer program called the Mondrian Generator.The purpose of the Mondrian Generator is to create paintings, or digital images anyway, that look like paintings of a series of differently sized white boxes with seemingly randomly selected ones filled in with primary colors.Thus, it is often difficult to tell the difference between an image created by the painter Mondrian, and an image created by the program Mondrian Generator.This brings up several questions.

††††††††††† First, there seems to be a consideration as to who receives the credit for the generated Mondrian image.There are several possibilities.Perhaps the software should receive the credit.The software was told to create a Mondrian image so it did, with no help other than the original command.The resulting image is a work of art, much like Mondrianís paintings.However, there seems to be a problem in that the software lacks important factors in attributing credit for the work to it.The software lacks intention.All art is the result of an artistís work.It is necessary to the existence of a work of art that it have been created by an artist.Even found art can be said to have been revealed as art by an artist.When an artist creates art they do so intentionally, so thusly, intention becomes a necessity to the existence of art.The software lacks intention in that it lacks the capability for intention as a process that lacks intelligence and free thought.If software cannot have intention, then it cannot be an artist and so it should not be attributed credit for the creation of the artwork.For these same reasons it would also be incorrect to refer to the computer as the artist.

††††††††††† Another possibility is that the artist is in fact Mondrian.This may seem ludicrous to posit, but if the processes that are being used by the computer are the recorded processes of Mondrian than it seems logical that the credit should go to Mondrian as the artist.However, it would seem that a point is being missed in there somewhere because crediting Mondrian would allow that Mondrian is still capable of creating art regardless of the fact that he has been dead for 58 years; an allowance which is at the best ludicrous and at the worst tragically flawed (though admittedly an impressive feat were it the case).

††††††††††† Finally, it is possible that the creator of the program is the one who should receive credit for the art it generates.The art is generated by a series of processes that are played back when the program is commanded to make a Mondrian image.It seems that the creator of these processes should be the artist in this case.Mondrian could not have created the processes used in the program because, as we have already established, he has been dead since at least 30 years before the modern computer was invented. It is reasonable to assume that the creator of the program created these processes in an attempt to mimic the processes evident in the paintings by Mondrian.So the processes, though extremely similar to the processes of Mondrian, are instead those of the person who created the program, thus the creator of the program would logically be the party most closely resembling an artist in this case.

††††††††††† An interesting point is made above about the fact that the artist who created the Mondrian Generator was intending to mimic the art of Mondrian.This brings up the question as to what the nature of the art of the Mondrian Generator is. There are several possibilities.First is that due to itís similarity to the paintings by Mondrian, that the Mondrian Generator is a forgery, or that more specifically that the works produced by it are forgeries.It seems as though once again, the question is one of intent.Logically, the most important factor in determining that something is a forgery is the determination that the artist created it with the intention of passing it off as a work created by the artist being forged.In the case of the Mondrian Generator, it would seem that the intention was to not to create something that could be passed off as a Mondrian painting, but simply to create an infinite number of paintings in the style of Mondrian.So, the intention to forge is not there and the art is not a forgery.

††††††††††† The next possibility is that the nature of the art is such that it makes a statement.There are certainly a couple statements that the work makes, and so this seems like the correct answer.It looks as though the artist is using the Mondrian Generator to make a point about the times we live in (predominately in reference to the technology we experience each day) and the effect it is having on art.Years ago, it was difficult to detect forgeries, especially if made by someone who had studied under the artist, or even simply that a very talented artist created them.The creator of the Mondrian Generator makes the point that now it may be impossible to tell what is real and what is spurious.What was once a unique occurrence of creativity that ended with the life of the artist is now instantly repeatable.To a great extent, art has lost itís uniqueness.Mondrian style paintings are now easily creatable with the click of a mouse.There is not point to paying for a real Mondrian when you can a get a Mondrian style painting now for almost nothing.The only reason to continue buying real Mondrians is if you are buying them not for their artistic qualities, but for the reputation of the artist.Technology today has taken away the value of all art because all art is now reproducible.It would be incorrect to say that paintings have no value, but the value that they do carry is merely the prestige of a name and nothing to do with the functionality of the art itself.The Mondrian Generator makes this point quite nicely.

††††††††††† Another point that the Mondrian Generator makes is that the person who created it likes Mondrian paintings a lot.This seems like a valid point, but it seems that the more important of the two points is the former and so that seems to be the primary message and purpose of the Mondrian Generator.


Art Generating Software Part Two: Landscape Generators

Supplementary Internet

††††††††††† There is a type of software that can be used to generate landscapes rivaling photo quality images.In function and form these images can equal photos, which raises a number of questions when considering their place in the artworld.If they are art, it needs to be determined what kind of art they are, who the artist is, and how they compare to the photographic art that they most closely resemble.

††††††††††† Computer generated landscapes are most certainly art.They fit the criteria for art in many ways.For example, they fulfill the requirements for the Imitation theory of art that states that

something is a work of art only if it is an imitation (Goldblatt and Brown, 5-8)

because it generated landscapes can be said to imitate real landscapes.Generated landscapes can also be said to fulfill the Institutional theory of art which states

X is an artwork if and only if it is an artifact upon which someone acting on the behalf of the artworld confers the status of being a candidate for appreciation. (Goldblatt and Brown, 524-528)

This list could go on needlessly, but it should be taken as a matter of fact that generated landscapes can constitute art.The main problem with attempting to label anything as art is that we do not yet have a clear or complete definition of what is art, mostly due to the fact that art is an open concept.However, the rebuttal to that problem, which is at this moment indisputable, is the simple fact that we cannot prove that it is not art and so must be considered as such.

††††††††††† Computer generated landscapes are not paintings quite obviously and with the same obviousness are also not photos though they may resemble them closely.Most certainly, computer generated landscapes must be considered an art form unto their own for they do not compare to anything we have seen before, though it may be noted that they also fit under the broad heading of digital art because they originate from and are most frequently stored in digital format.

††††††††††† As with the previous examples of art above, there are several possible answers when considering who the artist is in this case.First, the possibility of either the computer or the software can be ruled as before due to a lack of autonomy and intention.Next, the user of the program in this case may be considered the artist because the generation of a landscape, even with the software, requires several steps and many decisions that must be made by the user.Finally, the creator of the software has put processes into the software that are identical to the processes that artists use to create landscapes while at the same time intending that the software be used to create art. The processes are identical not in the generation of the landscape, but instead in the rendering.The computer monitor portrays what the computer interprets from the data it has collected, much the way that humans attempt to portray what their mind interprets from the data that their senses collect. Therefore, it seems in this case that both the user and creator of the software share in the credit for the creation of the finished artwork, but as before, neither the machine nor the software may be considered the artist in the least.

††††††††††† Photos are a form of art which is first and foremost representative in nature, but may also be considered for other factors such form, content, and miscellaneous features.Generated landscapes are not representative other than on a comparative basis because they have no corollary to the real world beyond their formalistic values.That is to say that though they may resemble the real world, they seldom represent it and never in such accuracy as a photograph.Their content is linked to the real world such that they each contain similar elements but hold no correlation beyond that.Even the process of taking a photograph as compared to generating a landscape is different; in the computer, the light is always perfect for your purposes, there is no more wind or rain than you wish, and nothing changes unless you command in which case it instantly bends to your will.Beyond resemblance, computer generated landscapes and photos have no similarity.


Conclusions, etc.

††††††††††† So in the comparison of these three new technologies several common factors can be observed, namely the inability of either software or machine to serve as artist at this stage of human technological developement



















Works Cited

Carroll, Noel.Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction, New York, NY: Routledge, 1999. Mondrian -Mondrian


Goldblatt, and Brown.Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of the Arts, Upper Saddle Ridge, NJ:Prentice Hall, 1997. p5-9, 524-528,



Media Sources