i have somehow become a media artist
Post #288 • May 31, 2004, 10:38 AM • 7 Comments
NF: What are some specific areas of development that have occurred in the last few months?
ZL: Neuroaesthetics. Neuroaesthetics is an emerging discipline that looks at understanding the neural and aesthetic basis of artistic creativity and achievement. It has fabulous potential for creating whole new art forms. For example, what does a Van Gogh sound like? Can you give me synaesthesia for two hours?
On my blog I wrote about Brainwave Chick. Brainwave Chick is a woman at Mississippi State University who hooks electrodes up to her head and has a synthesizer that plays emotions. She puts herself in different states and you get to hear her brain. It's called neural audio. And then there's ArtBlog. He just put up a digital coloring system that changes every time you go to the website. Every time you reload it, they change. These are examples of how information technology has transformed art, architecture and entertainment. What will neurotechnology allow us to do? How will they expand artistic creativity and expression?
Beats me. I appreciate the kind words, but really, I don't think of my random color generator as being all that sensitive or intelligent. The only element of grace is that the colors are programmed to shift incrementally through their red, green, and blue components so that they blend somewhat left to right. As far as I'm concerned, the guys who wrote the ImagePNG() function in php, which serves up my code as a png-format image, did something a lot more interesting.
To be honest, I'm not terribly excited about the impact of technology on art. Technology-driven art tends to look really cool, but isn't very touching emotionally. The last technology-based piece that really floored me was a Laurie Anderson work at the Soho Guggenheim, which gives you an idea about how long ago that happened. Likely things will be different one day, but technology continues to prohibitively expensive (go ask your video artist friends how much credit card debt they have), making it kind of an elitist undertaking even by art-world standards. Also the equipment is insanely easy to break. None of lack of expressiveness is the fault of the medium - I'm sure that tech-art will get its Monet one day - but I do think that the complexity of the materials ecourages cleverness more than sensitivity. I like the tactility and simplicty of painting. The worst hardware failure I experience is runnning out of paint. (Or is that a software issue?)
I think synaesthesia is a dead end. Synaesthesia, the collapse of two or more sensory modes into one experience, was all the rage a few years ago. (Synaesthetics can hear colors, hence the Van Gogh example above.) But synaesthetics are born, not made. I read an interview with a synaesthesia researcher in which he was asked how it might be learned. He suggested a type of Soto Zen-style meditation to make the mind more sensitive. Having practiced Zen, I can tell you that you'd be better off going outside and watching the sidewalk crack. Nothing exciting like hearing colors is going to happen. If it does, it's just your brain coughing. It might happen again, it might not, and in either case, it's not very important as a psychological event.
So the neuro guys are envisioning synaesthesia-inducing drugs. Well, you can ingest some interesting chemicals now to alter your state, but they tend to be bad for the art-making and art-viewing process. Ever try to drop acid and do anything useful? I haven't, but the reports I hear aren't promising. And even if scientists succeeded at inducing synaesthesia, would the Van Gogh give you a better art experience? Maybe all that sound would be distracting. Maybe your neurochemistry would provide sounds that were inappropriate. You might look at the Van Gogh and hear King Nothing by Metallica.
What does interest me is using the machine to generate possibilities that I wouldn't think of myself. Randomization is an easy way to accomplish this, but the only way I'm willing to incorporate it into my designs is if the parameters are such that failures are not too catastrophic. If you get ugly colors at the top of the page, you can still read the content. Because it's low risk, there's low payoff. At best, the colors at the top of the page will look especially nice. Your life isn't going to change. Not like Van Gogh could change it.
I'm raining on this parade because certain aspects of media art do interest me, and when I get around to playing with it some more, I'm going to be parsing the above issues in order to figure out what I'm doing. In the meantime, painting beckons.