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43 Dodgy Statements on Computer Art

43 Dodgy Statements on Computer Art
  • On April 20, 2010

Written by one of the early pioneers of computer arts, these words by Brian Reffin Smith are part tongue in cheek, part humorously accurate statements on the value, practicalities and nature of computer arts. Thanks to the Computer Arts Society for sharing it with me.

1. The sadness of most art is that it does not know its future. The sadness of computer art is that it does not know its past.

2. Constraint is liberty; reduce to the maximum.

3. If it looks just like, you know, ‘art’…it probably isn’t.

4. Using state-of-the-art technology merely produces state-of-the-technology art.

5. Those who use computers to make art need to understand art as well as computers.

6. Most participative art is deeply authoritarian.

7. The computer is best characterised not as an information processor but as a general-purpose representation processor.

8. Marshall McLuhan, at least as filtered through his sound-bites, was often wrong. The medium is not the message, which is more often determined socially and psychologically by the recipient.

9. If your system costs 10 000 € and mine 30 000 €, it does not follow that my art is thrice as good as yours.

10. In an ideal world, New Media institutions would employ at least one non-technological artist.

11. Are you pushing the frontiers of computational representation, or of contemporary art? Confusion rarely leads to success.

12. 99% of computer art is meretricious nonsense. But then 99% of everything is meretricious nonsense.

13. Self-imposed formal requirements are not inhibitive of expression.

14. Post Modernism has never said that everything is of equal value, just that the contexts in which we identify or attribute value should be open to analysis.

15. You know your amazing new computer art, rich in metaphors and analogies? It’s been done. Years ago. Without a computer.

16. We lose dimensions and scale. The computer in art is immediate and almost always, however “global”, local. Just as no well-found art school would be complete without computers, so every such institution should have a telescope and a microscope, connected to the computer or not.

17. Making computer art too dangerous to sponsor would be a good way to go.

18. Just as everyone has a novel inside them, many believe they have an artwork. The purpose of a good art school is to seek out these people and stop them.

19. Using a computer merely to access the web is like using a Bugatti Veyron to deliver the papers.

20. Many people think that graphic design is art. Art is undertaken for art-like reasons, graphic design for graphic design-like reasons. There may of course be overlap. There should never be confusion.

21. Making the (arts) information revolution consists not only in enabling the control of the means of computer art production by art workers, but also in being kind, non-gouging and relatively honest. Without the latter, one may doubt commitment to the former.

22. The best interactive art always makes you look at the participants.

23. There is only one thing worse than studying art for the budding computer artist, and that is to study computers. Or vice versa.

24. Art is not craft.

25. What would be pretentious or nonsensical if one said it oneself does not become more worthy when spoken by a computer-generated avatar.

26. Seen in the light of Guy Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle”, computer art is very spectacular indeed.

27. Beware of computer art as farce repeating itself as history.

28. There is no “normal” computer art, in the Kuhnian sense. It is in constant revolution, hence constantly evading scrutiny.

29. When the first solitary Metro station was built in Paris, where could people travel to? They just admired the station.

30. Bugs are good; as with fireflies, the fertile ones shed light.

31. The Prix Pierre Gutzman, 100 000 Francs, was offered by the Institut de France in 1906 to the first person who could establish contact with extra-terrestrials; except with Martians, which would be too easy.

32. ‘All that is solid floats into air’ is not a celebration of virtuality, but Marx ‘n’ Engels’ prediction for late capitalism.

33. A half developed Polaroid photo is different to half a digital photo. A half-finished pen-plotter drawing is different to a half-finished inkjet print.

34. When art processes happen near-instantaneously, doing art becomes synonymous with correction and selection, later with celebration; rarely with creativity.

35. Art is visual philosophy. But computer art is not visual computer philosophy.

36. Revolutionary modes of interaction between humans and normative structures do not a revolution make.

37. ‘i’, the imaginary square root of minus 1, is to the real numbers as the computer is – or should be – to art.

38. The purpose of the computer in art is to render it difficult and problematic, not easy.

39. We do not admire Picasso’s Guernica or Goya’s The Third of May 1808 solely because of the techniques used, yet we are often invited to admire computer art for just that reason. Art that is deliberately content-free is one thing. Art that is accidentally, lumpenly content-free is another.

40. Computer artist: the unemployable producing the unsaleable for the uninterested.

41. Of course computers and other devices will never fully understand flowing, allusive conversation. But they won’t care.

42. Many of the ‘objects’ of computer art are instances, illustrations, of some less tangible, invisible process. But it may be that the waveform should remain uncollapsed, the artwork staying undecideable, problematic, unobjectified. Lucy R. Lippard described the ‘dematerialization of the art object’ nearly 40 years ago.

43. Never throw away any computer or peripheral equipment that is more than 15 years old. You may well come to need it.

Via CAS & Paul Brown
mage credit “Manfred Mohr Computer Graphics – Une Esthétique Programmée” Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1971 – PDF of catalog Manfred Mohr Computer Graphics, 1971 – (21MB)


  1. I think of ‘computer art’ as simply a means to an end. If the piece is well conceived, conceptually sound it’s message should stand on it’s own apart from whatever medium brings it to life. When the use of the tools become an end in themselves, that’s when a piece can get gimmicky and ultimately silly as time wears on.

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