. community —

visualizing cool math

At the recommendation of a friend, I just checked out "Implicate Beauty:
Computational Art by Brian Evans"
(http://www.vanderbilt.edu/VUCC/Misc/Art1/Beauty.html).

People often ask me what new media art is. I usually say that it's
contemporary art that uses new media technology. It's an easy one. But
in my mind I have a narrower definition, one that excludes most gee-whiz
computer graphics and repurposed painting. If new media art is a zone in
which new technology and contemporary art overlap, then Evans' work
defines one of its boundaries.

Taken on their own, the images, animations and sounds at Evans' site
don't do much for me. They're barely decorative, in a psychedelic sort
of way. I could imagine them decorating the walls at Tim Leary's house
(*the rumor spread on this list that he is about to suicide online is
false, by the way*). Does seeing them as visualizations of mathematical
algorithms makes them more interesting? At an aesthetic level, I think
I'd prefer to look at the equations themselves printed large than these
pretty multicolored rugs. But conceptually speaking, the assertion that
these magic carpets are actually the mediated manifestations of cool
math makes a big difference. I keep asking myself: "Okay, but do they
really have to look like *this*?"

For an answer to this question, I looked at Evans' "Temporal Coherence
with Digital Color," a scientific article that discusses his use of
color and composition in time. It was pretty dense, but I managed to get
the sense that Evans' approach was informed by a strong understanding of
Western traditions in music and art ("Most time-based art forms (western
art forms in particular) have in common the idea of tension-release.").
Evans strives for a classical narrative structure in his time-based
work, based on notions of color balance and tension drawn from
Chevreuil, Goethe and Arnheim and exemplified in motion pictures from
*Wizard of Oz* to MTV.

My conclusion is that Evans applies very traditional models of visual
and narrative structure to his work with a strong dose of historical
perspective but very little critical edge or irony. Perhaps it is too
much to ask him to undermine or question classical Western aesthetics,
but I find the results of his conservatism rather, yawn, uninspiring.
Academic music is plagued by what one might call historical retardation:
most of it is 20 to 50 years behind the times. It's too bad that in
crossing-over from music to the visual arts, Evans' thinking didn't take
a corresponding leap.

Nonetheless, the work does raise interesting questions. Evans clearly
has his thinking cap on, which is a lot more than can be said of a lot
of computer graphic "artists" out there diddling around with KPT.
Masquerading as geeky graphics, these images and animations highlight
the assumptions and formal structures that lie behind Western aesthetic
paradigms (okay, maybe this is going a little far). As such, they get to
count as new media art in my little book, even if I don't like it.

Please *do* take the time to check out this site (be sure to download
the lovely Mandelbrot music in the "Listening Room" and leave it looping
in the background while you work), and send your comments on to the
list. I'd like to know what you think about my analysis and opinions. As
Evans himself says, "We are, after all, dealing with art. While we
accept the discipline and responsibility of the craft, we must be
cautious of over-intellectualizing what we do, and not leave the work
cold and sterile."

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