Looking back: computation and image

Hey class,

I chose to blog about computation and image. This was one of my favorite workshops of the semester and I wish we’d had more time to discuss it.

Reviewing the Processing overview that we were assigned before the workshop, I’m struck by the creators’ statement that their program is designed to “[promote] software literacy, particularly within the arts, and visual literacy within technology.” Thinking back to our early discussions in week 2, it’s worth pondering what implications computational literacy might have for the arts. A key point in Annette’s article was that the spread of literacy allowed certain types of (for lack of a better word) utterances that didn’t exist before, like contracts and signatures. The same can be said for programming in the arts. Interestingly, Aaron mentioned that he approach a bunch of different people for technical aid and, IIRC, had assistants help him program the spotlights. Strictly speaking, he might not be considered fully computationally literate, and this adds a layer of complication to questions of authorship and artistic integrity. (Of course, these questions aren’t unique to programming—in most conceptual art, the artist herself is still considered the author regardless of whether she physically put together the installation herself.) It’s conceivable that people who are totally computationally illiterate (e.g., me) are circumscribed from participating in certain genres of conceptual art that rely on computation.

What are the consequences, then, of “promoting software literacy” in fields that it hasn’t yet penetrated? It seems that when visual artists integrate computational media into their toolboxes, it pushes the field in an even more conceptual direction than it has already been heading. Of course, there’s also the rather vulgar argument that software literacy gives artists a marketable skill and serves as a bridge between the arts and other disciplines. I hate this line of thinking, but there is something to be said for the idea of visual artists working in a medium that is accessible to people who might not normally engage much with the arts. After all, painting is a type of technical literacy that most lay people don’t get to participate in, because of the skill required and the expense of materials. If, in 20 years, everyone has a basic level of programming literacy, then it would be arguable that programming-based art is more democratic than art made with traditional media.

One thought on “Looking back: computation and image

  1. Playing with Processing was also a highlight of the semester’s hands-on elements for me, as I think the creators succeeded in making it an accessible and (relatively) quick to pick up program. I also find myself dwelling on the various levels and formulations of computational literacy as they play into the arts, because there’s such a broad spectrum of possible skill sets when it comes to technology, as well as the arts — with many nuances between literate and illiterate. I love concepts that can take form via collaborations, like Aaron’s; it’s reassuring to know, as an artist, that as long as I can conceptualize how a vision might be carried out, and can communicate why it should be — and ask questions to those with the technical skills to make it happen — such projects can be realized. I imagine there is some exchange of skills — and therefore increased literacy — between all collaborators in these processes.

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