Computer Art and the Question of Authenticity: Finding a Hypothesis

The focus of this article concerns new models of collaborative authorship, unattainable outside computer generated art. Within this area I am particularly interested in questions of digital authenticity. This interest was initially in relation to Walter Benjamin’s concept, which argues that prior to the ‘age of mechanical reproduction’ the unique existence of a work of art is determined by its presence in time and space. In the following essay I intend to analyse the information gathered after the lecture on ‘Popper and The Hypothetico-Deductive Method of research’ in order to assess whether it is relevant to my developing research plan. The essay will be delivered in 2 broad areas: firstly, an assessment will be made of the relevance of applying Poppers theory of Scientific Falsification to my future research, in order to evaluate the relevance of the theory of authenticity as it applies to computer art; secondly, consideration will be given to the formation of a hypothesis by applying the Hypothetico-Deductive Method to my research area, in order to ‘scientifically’ measure the concept authenticity.

I believe it is worthy to assess authenticity in relation to computer art for three main reasons: firstly, it is important to establish the circumstances under which digital authenticity can be achieved; secondly, to establish the variability of an artwork’s ‘authoring’ in relation to authenticity; and finally, to test whether authenticity is linked to the method of making a computer artwork, or to the content of the work itself.

Noteworthy philosophers and psychologists have regarded authenticity with high acclaim throughout the modern age. Existentialists summoned authenticity to discuss ‘becoming that self which one truly is.’1 To create art by heeding our true selves calls upon integrity, originality and inventiveness. It may well be considered that to create a work which is inauthentic, the artist is fake, derivative or working beyond accepted protocols. However, surely to rate authenticity is a subjective act: for one artist working beyond a normal range of protocols is ingenious, imaginative and resourceful. The question then is how do we scientifically measure something that is inherently subjective?

Karl Popper’s notion of Falsifiability differentiates scientific statements from non-scientific statements. Popper argued that ‘pseudo-sciences’ like Freudian psychoanalysis could not generate conjectures that can be falsified by experiment or experience. Therefore, if concepts of authenticity can be successfully falsified, erroneous theories can be ruled out, and better conjectures can be proposed. Some theories may not be falsified, suggesting that the theory has a lot of explanatory power and that we should ‘stick with it’. Popper nevertheless claims that we can never describe a theory as true, or proven – only what he calls, ‘corroborated’. However, it may be that statements of computer art’s authenticity are in fact unfalsifiable. In this case, these statements would belong to the ‘pseudo-sciences’ and indicate the use of a different research method, one perhaps less rooted in ‘scientific objectivity’ and more appropriate for the subjectivity of socially generated computer art.


Constructing a hypothesis involves developing the questions I have identified after defining the broad area of research interest – in this case the relationship between computer art and authenticity. I can use my experience as a lecturer of computer art to create questions that can be funneled to an eventual hypothesis. Working at colleges around central Scotland for over 6 years, and in particular City of Glasgow College where most of my computer art teaching has taken place, I can identify two main strands in computer art. Firstly, there is an area that I will call ‘Digital Art’ for the sake of differentiation. From my experience, I have learned that Digital Art can be defined as a process for making art with a computer where another, often more labour intensive process already exists. This could be exemplified by

citing filmmaking, photography, graphic design or animation. Technologies already exist to make these art objects, but practitioners employ computers as an efficiency tool.

All of these ‘digital art’ objects now share a common trait – their production involves computer based encoding in a common digital code. Dominic Lopes states: ‘an item is a work of digital art just in case (1) it is art (2) made by a computer or (3) made for display by a computer (4) in a common, digital code.’2 It is important to note that the computational tools for such renderings come from software produced by international corporations and software manufactures. In fact, artists manufacturing art objects using pre-existing software must do so in association with the manufacturer. Collaboration here is a truism and unavoidable. However it is worth considering if these collaborations with the ‘pre-packaged’ functions, options and parameters of the new art applications are sufficient to cover all artistic fields of enquiry, all aesthetic nuances, and all personal idioms?’3

Image 01

In contrast, I can introduce a second strand that I will call ‘Computer Art.’ This practice of art making, which I encourage in my classes, does not replicate existing technologies. This practice of making art using a computer shares a set of features that separates it from Digital Art: these works are not authored using pre-existing software tools with a finite list of options or parameters. Computer art is made by the artist programming the computer, without the assistance of creative software manufacturers. Software is not the tool on which the ‘real’ artwork is based, but software is the material of artistic creation.’4 But does a work of this kind count as art? Is it a genuine artwork? Richard Wollheim says:

If we wonder whether assemblages, installations, earth-art, performance art, conceptual art, video art, will survive, not just as hobbies, not just as technology, but as art, we will know there is nothing for it but to wait and see. But when we do, the big question is: What are we waiting for? What will there be to convince us, or convert us when it heaves into sight?5

Possibly the answer to this question involves the theory of art. A theory of art actively distinguishes art objects from other non-art objects by applying a prescribed set of features or conditions. It is therefore relevant to ask what features or conditions do computer art works have to meet to become genuine works of art? Although philosophers and theorists argue about the nature of art, artist Scott Snibbe explains that many computer art works are genuine, authentic art works as they: ‘portray the entire spectrum of artistic enquiry … sublime, beauty, obsession, fashion, politics, anger, violence, self- observation, portrait, narrative, poetry, abstraction, etc.’6 Ars Electronica, an annual electronic art festival in Linz, Austria seem to agree, regularly exhibiting Snibbe’s work.

Therefore we can surmise that there are at least some interested bodies that consider computer art to be a genuine and authentic art form. However we cannot escape that this a subjective view based on an opinion of authenticity as it relates to computer art. It is important to note then that the references above have also identified a distinction between ‘computer art’, and ‘digital art’ made with pre-packaged or off-the-shelf software. This distinction is also based on taste, contemporary and quite possible changing theory, and a viewpoint which is unscientific. However, for the purpose of this essay, and for the future of my research, my broad area of interest is ‘Computer Art’, not art made with digital efficiency, with wizards, helpers, one-button effects. This type of art is mostly about the software that made it.

I have used my teaching experience to identify a series of questions that have lead me to a hypothesis, and a vehicle through which my research will take place. A series of mind maps has helped me to quickly create hierarchies and categories which are defined visually, thus allowing key ideas to develop. I have also found that the familiarity of ‘pencil and paper’ allows for a free association where more rigid methods may allow me to wander away from the focus of the line of enquiry.

From the mind map above I can see several questions emerging – some discrete and some are interconnected. Each of the questions that arise from the mind map reinforce the question about the relationship between computer art and authenticity:

Computer Art Authenticity

  1. Do computer based works count as art?
  2. Is computer art considered to be an authentic, genuine art form?: Whoare we asking? What authority do they have? Who else can we ask?How do we know the opinion is widespread or genuine?
  3. What is computer art? Define against Digital Art. What are theparameters for a computer artwork?
  4. How is Art measured as genuine or authentic? What are the rules thata traditional artwork subscribes to for authenticity?
  5. Isauthenticitysubjective?Ifso,howdowemeasureit?
  6. What is authorship? What models for authorship are there? How doescollaboration affect authorship and authenticity? What digitalcollaborative models are there?
  7. Collaboration and Computer art: Are there new models of collaborativeauthorship, unattainable outside computer-generated art.
  8. Digital Authenticity: Is computer art an authentic art practice whenmeasured against traditional art practices? Does it matter?
  9. How does media influence authenticity? Can there ever be a pureauthentic?

Now that I have a number of questions I can convert them into a predictive form to create a null hypothesis where falsification may be achieved. As with positivist theory, the goal of my research is to create a law or general understanding about the relationship between authenticity and computer art. Recognising that computer art’s authenticity is based on subjective opinion in a changing theoretical world means that the question of whether or not computer art is authentic is impossible to answer. Instead we can only use Poppers theory of Scientific Falsification to evaluate the relationship between computer art and authenticity. Therefore my hypothesis takes this form:

Computer art is an authentic art practice when measured against traditional art practices

The variables in this statement then are: (1) Computer art, (2) Authenticity and (3) How authenticity applies to traditional art practices. The new diagram of enquiry therefore looks like:

With a hypothesis stated, and in the employment of Poppers theory of falsification, what, and how, are observations made to falsify the theory that computer art is an authentic and genuine art form? Or, given established art theory and existing research, what aspects of the conjecture have already been falsified? Can the hypothesis be refuted, or tested? In creating a roadmap to test the falsifiability of this conjecture it is important to mention the potential to be misled by what appears to be confirming evidence. Popper himself warns, ‘by making their interpretations and prophesies sufficiently vague they were able to explain away anything that might have been a refutation of the theory had the theory and the prophesies been more precise. In order to escape falsification they destroyed the testability of their theory.7 Popper warns of subjectivity and personal interest. A true analysis of the data must be objective.

The methodology then for this research is common to many research projects and should include:

  1. Formulate the research hypothesis – Computer art is an authentic art practice when measured against traditional art practices.
  2. Definethevariables-ComputerArt,authenticityandtraditionalart.
  3. Literature review of current and relevant texts to establish whattheories, if any, fit the computer art model.
  4. Make computer art and record the process using written reflective logsand visual documentation.
  5. Criticallyreflectonmyownwork
  6. Exhibit computer artworks and gain viewer and peer feedback viaquestionnaires and a post-exhibit focus group.
  7. Collateresearchdatausingbothqualitativeandquantitativemethods.

Suggesting that Popper and The Hypothetico-Deductive Method of research is relevant to my developing research plan, is to assist in testing a theory of authenticity as it applies to computer art. Furthermore, I have successfully devised a hypothesis based on the soundness of my own experience, and with falsifiability in mind. To falsify my theory is to declare that computer art is not genuine art. However, to find that my theory is unfalsifiable is to conclude not that computer art is a genuine art practice, simply that we cannot find reason for it to be inauthentic, at the moment. This is based on the following premises:

  1. There is a plethora of evidence to both uphold and refute its authenticity. We can see this as the example texts from Dominic Lopes, Scott Snibbe, and the philosopher Richard Wollheim offer a tiny sample of available texts and opinions.
  2. Ihavesuggestedlookingattraditionalarttheorytotestifitforbidsthe authenticity of computer art: ‘The more a theory forbids, the better it is.’8 Art theory, the philosophy of art and social theory is widely discussed over an extensive time span and offers an opportunity for detailed testing of the question of authenticity.

To conclude, in this article I have worked holistically to assess whether computer art’s authenticity may be best tested using Scientific Falsification, and in addition, in this text I have successfully devised a hypothesis based on the soundness of my own experience. I have identified and categorised two distinct strands in computer-based art: (1) digital art, and (2) computer art. I have stated my interest in the latter only indicating the futility of analysing digital art with authenticity in mind. Essentially, the fundamental authenticity inherent in computer art has been challenged by the paradoxical nature of ‘digital art’ and it’s ability to democratise creativity whilst also masking the genuine computer art making processes.


1 Kierkegaard, 1849/1941, p. 29

2 Dominic McIver Lopes, A philosophy of Computer Art, 2010, Routledge, New York, p.3

3 Richard Wright, Software Art After Programming, 2004, First published in MUTE magazine, no. 28, Autumn 2004

4 Richard Wright, Software Art After Programming, MUTE magazine, no. 28, Autumn 2004, p58

5 Richard Wollheim, Why is Drawing Interesting, British Journal of Aesthetics, no. 45, 2005, p5

6 ‘Useless Programs, Useful Programmers and the Production of Social Interactive Artwork’

7 Karl Popper, Science as Falsification, excerpt originally published in Conjectures and Refutations, 1963

8 Karl Popper, Science as Falsification, excerpt originally published in Conjectures and Refutations, 1963


COLLINS, H, Creative Research, New York, AVA Publishing, 2010
GERE, C, Digital Culture, London, Reaktion Books, 2002
LEAVY, P, Method Meets Art, New York, Guildford Press, 2009
LOPES, D, M, A philosophy of Computer Art, New York, Routledge, 2010 WRIGHT, R, ‘Software Art After Programming’MUTE magazine, 2004 WOLLHEIM, R, ‘Why is Drawing Interesting’, British Journal of Aesthetics, 2005

SNIBBE, S, ‘Useless Programs, Useful Programmers and the Production of Social’ Interactive Artwork’ digital/2006/01/Snibbe/index.htm,accessed 2011

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