Monday, August 12, 2013

Art Loops

A creative system involves artist, art and viewer in an information-generative feedback loop. A creative system’s success can be measured by the amount of information generated. Some art conveys a deep message to a targeted audience, some a shallow message to a general audience. The art that fails to reach anyone returns to dust. The art that achieves both depth and breadth disseminates via mechanical reproduction, and can be considered extraordinarily successful. Hans Haacke is an artist more aware of the feedback loop than perhaps any other. His pieces are site-specific reflections upon the politics and environments of the art world. Some work is more reserved: Condensation Cube is a plexiglass box which maintains an equilibrium with the museum climate, showing the water cycle in isolation. In a more aggressive gesture, Haacke produced a series of framed photographs and text: Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971. The series outlines the shady dealings of a landlord named Harry Shapolsky. Haacke created the piece for a show at the Guggenheim Museum, which the trustees promptly cancelled when learning of the plan. This act of censorship is of course the best affirmation Haacke could hope for.

Condensation Cube
Hans Haacke
1963 - 1965
Water in plexiglass

Influence of the three components of a creative system— artist, art and viewer— is not evenly distributed. Some artists lend creative control to the viewer directly. Some encode complex ideas fully in the work itself, some rely on wall text, some offer only abstractions. At the center of all art is metaphor: colors become sentiments, figures become archetypes, symbols abound. It is through metaphor that an artist expresses ideas. Good art is both surprising and relatable. A good artist blends deliberation with instinct— they intend to represent something, but remain open to the influence of their medium. By being beautiful, or funny, or eye-catching, the art invites viewers to spend time interpreting it. The artist relies on large swaths of overlapping taste, or else finds the right audience. 

Creative art presents ideas not otherwise available to the senses. Images of mythical creatures, extinct creatures, and creatures of an artist’s invention are examples of creative art. Representing these three kinds of creatures well requires a biological understanding of how animal bodies work and look, a practical understanding of an artistic medium, awareness of historical context, and an experienced aesthetic to fill in the gaps. Often the most challenging part of creation is deletion. Much creativity happens in the edit. Robert Rauschenberg is infamous for his Erased de Kooning Drawing. To paraphrase his interview on the piece by SFMOMA, it was a continuation of his series of white painted canvases. He began by erasing his own drawings but was unsatisfied, and decided it must be art first. So he went to de Kooning, whom he considered the most indisputably artistic, and asked for a drawing. After careful consideration, de Kooning selected a piece that was both dear to him and inclusive of several different media, making it as difficult to erase as possible. Rauschenberg says the piece took three months, and uncountable erasers.

Erased de Kooning Drawing
Robert Rauschenberg
Drawing media on paper

Creative systems occur at micro and macro levels simultaneously. At the center of this scale is the local ecology of an artist creating and viewing their own work.  To the left of the scale are subroutines of neurons and nerves. To the right are collaboratives, institutions, and arenas. The richer the subsystems, the more successful the work. This idea reveals the first opportunity for a synthetic creative system: unlike a typical human artist, a robot feels no different painting in a studio than in a gallery. Viewers are often left unaware of what goes in to a piece, and artists are often secretive about their process. Viewers can watch a robot work with unabashed curiosity. If designed to work quickly, a robot can even take willing viewers on as subjects.