Margaret Bodin – Authenticity and Computer Art

Margaret Boden opens her authoritative essay on computer art with,

‘it is often seen as inauthentic, even strictly impossible, because it lacks certain essential features of genuine art. For instance, it’s said that computers don’t have emotions; that any work of art is a human communication rooted in human experience; that computer art isn’t unique, because a program could churn out its products indefinitely; and that programs can’t generate fundamental creative changes. This attitude prevents people from engaging seriously with the products of computer art. In addition, it threatens to devalue the artistry of the human being behind the computer, and to undermine their status as an artist.’

Her text, although essentially about computer authored music, can be be used to argue a case for any computer art media. She claims that most members of an art audience will approach a work with certain philosophical assumptions in mind. Boden reckons that these assumptions will prevent them from appreciating a computer artwork – even taking it seriously at all! This she assumes is to do with the apparent in-authenticty of a computer artwork based on a set of incorrect assumptions:

  1. Art should spring from human agency
  2. Art must be grounded in emotion
  3. Art must involve the communication of human experience
  4. Art mus be honest and produced in good faith
  5. Art must be unique or rare
  6. Art must be transformational

Boden suggests that we may  be able to ‘neutralise’ the first 4 issues by identifying the human computer artist as the author of the work. This does not account for the highly complex programmatic processes that go on ‘behind the scenes’ in a computer art work.

The fifth issue can be quashed by authoring computer artworks with limited outputs. Boden suggests even deleting the program used to create the work, ensuring no future versions can be made. The sixth issue seems to Boden an incorrect assumption as not all art is transformational. She claims that much art is exploratory and combinational. What is computer art if not combinational? Moreover, computers are absolutely capable of transformational creativity too. System generated work can bear no relation, and may not be comparative to any of its older generations.

I think Boden has missed a valuable opportunity in this otherwise excellent analysis: why should computer art subscribe to pre-existing ideas of authenticity? Why can computer art not create it’s own vocabulary for discussing its own authenticity? If we use the assumptions of traditional art, then the broad, ingenious, original world of computer art may never be seen to be a ‘genuine’ works of art.

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