Prelude to Interactive Art: An Aesthetic Propopal

0. Basis: As based on a debate over whether video games could be a valid medium of artistic expression, a major complaint against this hypothesis was the interactivity involved in the medium, which is lacking from the current media included as art.

This interactivity in mediums that we classically define as art is not non-existant, it is just concealed, or hidden, since the viewer ultimately creates the meaning as an observer. Classical forms of artistic expression exist, overtly, as objects to be observed, but the observer plays no implicit roll in the form or outcome of the peice. But this can be contrasted to video games as art in which the interactivity can be seen as the medium itself, the very structure of the work is defined as interactivity, where the observer becomes an overt participant.

Apparently art has become equated with "functionless-ness", where art is defined as passivity, and lack of purpose beside "being art". This can be seen in a statement attributed to the sculptor Richard Serra that "... the difference between art and architecture is that art is necessarily useless...", and a quote from the French post-modernist Jean Baurillard:

"Since a long time art pretends to be useless (it was not the case till the 19th century, where, in a world that was not yet objective nor real the question about useful- or uselessness was not even to be raised). It is therefore logical that it should have a predilection for trash and waste, which is also useless. To turn any object into a piece of art you just have to make it useless. What the ready-made achieves by taking away the function from the object, without changing it in any way (by the way, Duchamp was not so obsessed with the ready-made : he said "One ready-made from time to time, but not ten a day !")" [emphasis mine, from the essay "Integral reality"]
It seems that because current art falls into the "useless" camp (perhaps due to limitations in media) it has limited our scope into the idea that art is necessarily lacking in function or interactivity, mostly because it is a feature of art today. I dare say that this is a limited and very synthetic judgement on art, and misses some features and areas which we recognize as art, or at least historically have, namely architecture and engineering. In light of Baudrillard's caveat about the question of lack of utility being a recent interdiction into the definition of art, we can make sense of Serra's division, since he too is mired in the modern/post-modern paradigm of art. Classically, though, structures such as the Golden Gate bridge, or Notre Dame have been seen as aesthetic works, albeit for different reasons. This functional aesthetic can also be seen in modern industrial and software design as seen in David Gelernter's book "Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology", where Gelernter explicitly equates design (as aesthetics) with functionality, beauty is defined by simplicity, or congruity of form to purpose. This can be read into more mainstream forms of static art too, where the purpose of the object is to be art. It can be said, following this reasoning, that art is its own purpose.

Video games may well be what photography and cinema were to art in their inception. In both cases the aesthetic merits of the emergent mediums were denied possible aesthetic worth. Photography was merely "documentary", it was "taken" but not "created" like what was contemporaneously called valid forms of artistic expression . Cinema was merely a form of entertainment, and not seen as a valid medium for artistic expression. History has proven these views against the emergent mediums as false, both photography and cinema are valid forms of artistic expression today. Perhaps video games sits with these, but do to our proximity to the current status-quo of art, we are blind to their aesthetic potential.

But where does this leave interactivity? Does aesthetic worth automatically preclude overt interactivity in static art (art that is not designed for practical use)? Can the structure of a work of art (for arts sake) not allow interactivity, and would the introduction of interactivity into art destroy its "artness"?

This demands an experiment in allowing the very structure of a piece of art to become interactivity itself, like a video game. The media must be wholly dynamic, and open to others to actually create. The experiment is to create a classic work of art (in this case graphic) that captures the elements of video game interactivity that are lacking from the classic media. This is to show that interactivity CAN be, eventually, viewed as aesthetic, even if it is a relatively new potential, that there is nothing barring interactivity from being within art. The goal is to create interactivity as art, as well is in the art itself. Art where the role of spectator and artist vanish, where the classic wall between artist and observer can be allowed to disappear, allowing aesthetics to become pure interactivity.

1. The Model: In a conversation with Laura Schonberger about the above topic, we decided to find a way to remove the limited interactivity which is contained in modern art, specifically visual art, which is a dilemma since there is only so much interactivity allowed by traditional media such as paint and canvas. The opening model we developed involved some way of translating the "Choose Your Own Adventure" idea into art, which is problematic since conventional visual art is not temporally arranged, and thus potentially destroys the idea of choice, or decision on behalf of the spectator. Graphic art is necessarily static upon completion, the actual creative potential exits the picture, creating the problem of how to keep the dynamism of creation in the finished piece.

The answer to this problem is to remove the potential for completion from the creative act, and to open it up to outside involvement. If completion was allowed, the project would immediately revert to static art, and loose its essence of interactivity (much like the limited interactivity allowed by an exquisite corpse type project). Destroying the artist/spectator divide is much more difficult when the potential for completion is removed from the artistic process, and something novel is needed to meet this end. The art of the project needs to be infinitely open, and non-completeable, to maintain the goal of interactivity, which is daunting. Below is presented a potential solution towards these problems:

2. The Project:

  • Spectators will be giving 6"x6" pieces of paper (to conserve costs), as many as they want. And a choice of various media to apply to the paper. What they create is unconstrained by the organizers, it is wholly up to the public.
  • These completed squares of paper will be aligned into a grid of potentially infinite 6"x6" sections. The arrangement of these pieces are up to the spectators, and can be changed at whim by any person. There is no finished configuration of squares except as limited by time constraints of the event itself .
  • The organizers role in this event, beyond initial set up, is the same as that of the spectators, they are equal to them in every way, and have no privileged input. Beyond that they must make the intention of the project clear, to help with the tearing down of the classic divide between artist and observer. Perhaps some kind encouragement would be preferred.
  • The event should take place in a venue with high foot traffic, and artistic atmosphere, such as a First Friday, or Art Walk, or any communal display of galleries and such.
  • Ideally the project would take place in such a way to allow for permanence (as in no possible state of completion), and allow for potentially infinite space for arrangement. Sadly the real world will not allow for this. Transportation and reassembly is permissible, since it can maintain interactivity and requisite dynamism.

Note: this whole article is a collaboration with the aforementioned Laura Sconberger, who deserves as much credit as I in its creation.

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