An interesting point of view, but I think it still presumes a bit too
much that the stereotypical divide between art and science/
engineering is unbridgeable. There are people who live in both
worlds (not that many, but some) -- and I think there's more of an
opportunity for cross-fertilization than one might think. I like
your idea of artists learning how to program --- but engineers can
also learn to make art.
Most collaborations of this kind don't amount to much, I agree, but
speaking as someone with a foot in both worlds and who has done a lot
of collaboration of this type --- I think there's room for something
very interesting to happen in the mixing of the two spaces. The
mixing would have to happen at a deeper level than typically occurs
-- it goes beyond just language, into the boundaries between
different ways of thinking, perceiving, feeling, and being. What
interests me isn't merely adding the two worlds or juxtaposing them,
but creating hybrid spaces in which both aspects of art and
engineering work together.
On Sep 12, 2006, at 10:32 PM, Pall Thayer wrote:
> I just have to say, since this is what greeted me on Rhizome this
> evening, that I personally have never been convinced of the
> benefits of the artist + engineer/programmer/scientist
> collaboration idea. I'm sure that something like '9 evenings' was a
> remarkable event way back when but I'm not convinced that it was a
> significant ART event. I'm going to try to explain what I think is
> wrong with such collaborations (not that they ARE wrong, just what
> I think goes wrong).
> The main thing is the language barrier. I don't believe that it's
> possible for an artist and an engineer to talk the same language.
> Both of these areas have their own terms and vocabularies which
> makes the seemingly simple task of conveying ideas, difficult. Try
> going into a Macdonalds and ordering "a double cheeseburger with
> secret sauce". Possibly, they might deduce that you want a Big Mac,
> but I'll bet that in most cases, they won't have any idea what your
> asking for. I used to go into Starbucks and ask for a large coffee
> and I found it strange that sometimes I would get a rather large
> coffee and sometimes I would get a huge coffee. Then I discovered
> that I wasn't using the appropriate Starbuck-ese and was, from that
> point on, able to control the size I got by asking for either a
> "grande" or a "venti". But it could have caused the same kind of
> confusion the other way around. The coffee slinger could have asked
> me, "Do you mean a grande or a venti?" I, not know the differe!
> nce between a grande and a venti, would have put my brain to work
> for a second and thought, "well, I can deduce that 'grande' is
> something big but I have no idea what 'venti' means." And then
> picked the grande thinking that was the bigger of the two and then
> ended up NOT getting what I had intended on getting.
> I don't know, maybe in the case of artist + engineer/programmer/
> scientist collaboration, that's one of those 'magical' places where
> 'new' ideas emerge. You know, playing off the misunderstandings
> instead of trying to avoid or correct them but I see it as a fault.
> This idea of something "magical" brings me to another point.
> There's something about art. Something that's so hard to define and
> so hard to express in words, which is of course why we express it
> artistically. One of the things that makes it so hard to define is
> that it's capable of affecting different people in very different
> ways. My wife sometimes gets surprised when I say that such and
> such is such a happy song because to her, it's a sad song. How do
> we explain, and maintain that element that makes it possible for
> one person to feel one thing and another to feel the opposite. When
> something does get lost in this mess of language barriers and
> miscommunication, what do you think is the first to go. It must be
> that which is hardest to express verbally. That indescribable,
> magical, artistic element.
> Another issue is lack of understanding of the media (and this, of
> course, can go both ways). I firmly believe that the more the
> artist knows about and understands the media that he or she is
> working with, the better the chance of creating something
> significant. If the artist is, for instance, providing the
> conceptual basis for a piece and relying on a collaborator to
> translate it into a medium or media, then, in most cases, the
> artist is working with a medium or media that they are unfamiliar
> with or lack a clear understanding of it. It seems to me that some
> people within the art world always assume that when an artist is
> working with computers, they have to collaborate with a programmer.
> That it's just not in the realm of the arts to learn any computer
> programming (except perhaps max/msp because it's visual). People
> talk about the "steep learning curve". Well, I don't think that
> programming *as an artistic medium* has a steeper learning curve
> than any other medium. I think !
> what people mean is that to learn programming *in the way that
> professional programmers use programming* there is a steep learning
> curve. That's probably true. But if we're programming a work of
> art, we don't have to worry about generally accepted coding
> principles. We don't have to worry about our programs using
> resources efficiently. We don't have to worry about our code being
> easily readable to others and we don't have to worry about our
> programs being extensible. We can be messy, sloppy, inefficient. It
> only has to do exactly what that particular work of art requires.
> Nothing more.
> Somehow, I can't shake the feeling that this idea of the necessity
> of collaboration in the field of New Media is an obsolete remnant
> of earlier times when artists needed to collaborate with engineers/
> programmers/scientists *just to gain access to the equipment*. And
> because it was so hard to gain access to it, they never had the
> opportunity to learn or understand it fully in an artistic medium
> sort of way. Today, when I probably have more power and technology
> than all the devices used by artists throughout the 70's, right
> here in my little laptop, that collaboration isn't necessary
> anymore. Also, I can spend as much time as I want and/or need to
> understand this technology as my chosen medium.
> Final word: I don't really think that art is benefiting that much
> from these types of collaboration. Perhaps they provide an
> incentive to artists in general to explore and better what the
> collaborators were initially trying to do. Maybe I wouldn't be
> trying to gain an understanding of these media if Rauschenberg and
> Kluver had never gotten together. I don't know but I don't recall
> seeing anything truly artistically compelling as the result of such
> If I read this through a couple of times I'd probably find a few
> things I'd want to edit, but I'm going to stop now and toss this
> out there.
> Pall Thayer
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