New interactive environments

Post 3: Applying Theories

20.12.2010 10:31 by Jakob Kangur
This week we are applying the theories we learned about in the previous weeks in our Generative Content Creation course to concrete examples of generative art.


We were lucky to have been presented with a big list of examples with loads of different generative works. Some of them are downloadable, some are web-based, some fall more into the category of tools and some are just things to play with.

One of my favorites among the links was The Generator Blog, which indexes a huge amount of small generative software. The picture above is from an Atari 2600 Label Maker application, which I found on the very same blog.

I scanned through the list of software on that site and I found some of the stuff on there pretty interesting in terms of the context of how these small generative tools are used for the purpose of social satire. There is a lot of generative software that is humorously critical of some sort of social phenomena.

The reason why it's interesting, particularly to me, is twofold: first, I always maintain that any artwork should be evaluated based on its relationship to society; and second, it's interesting because they reveal something about our attitude towards generativity in general.

I remember Philip Galanter mentioned Jackson Pollock in his article on Complexity Theory in the readings of Week 46. The question analyzed there was whether or not he could be considered a generative artist, but, regardless of that, Pollock, I think, serves as a very good example of what I mean by the importance of "relationship with society" in terms of good art.

Essentially, I believe the best pieces of art always indulge in some form of social upheaval. Art should always aspire to rebel against a sorry state of affairs, in a way. You can do that exceptionally well with art, because it seems to have a unique and efficient ability to call into question the very fabric of how a society comprehends itself. Hence, to me, the goal of art should always be to engage society in dialogue.

So what could possibly provoke dialogue in the seemingly random squirts of paint in Pollock's works? It's very easy to invoke the standard objection to abstract expressionism of the art philistine here - that I could probably whip something similar up myself, and dismiss it as a fad.

Visually speaking, perhaps one could indeed achieve a similar aesthetic. However, the point is that you could probably never achieve the same social significance in terms of what Pollock meant 60 years ago in a post-war moment in time, no matter how algorithmic your technique. After all, what was produced was not interestingly coloured wallpaper, but instead a statement on creation in general, as well as on the principles at the heart of society that govern it.

So, I'm always looking for the social commentary of art, and what's interesting with some of the little pieces of software on The Generator Blog is that generativity itself is used as a device to make that social commentary.

I've selected a few generative works that I would cheekily categorize as rebellious against "bullshit" - the meaningless marketing and corporate fluff that pollutes our media, in which you use the generative process to bypass any sort of effort or consideration towards certain mannerisms.

Prime examples include apps like Corpspeak: infinite corporate bullshit generator:


As you can see, it automatically generates long sections of text full of jargon-infected gibberish and it is obviously a satire on the general barren nature of press releases and the corporate attitudes and practices that result in them.

You have the basic characteristics of generative art present in this example. There is an underlying system of language rules and an algorithm to arrange the jargon dictionary entries into something that mimics sentences. The software creates the work with a significant amount of autonomy and the author gives up some of his creative control in the process. In fact, in this particular case, you might say too much control is given up, as the only input from the "author" in the standard version is the press of a button. However, there is a customization option where you are free to modify the source code and dictionary to make the generator behave differently.

It brings up an interesting question, though: how much autonomy can a generative piece of art have before the author loses his authorship entirely? Is that even a logical possibility?

Let's say, for the sake of the argument, that we are indeed dealing with a piece of art here, as it might be argued that a text generator is not art, but it doesn't really matter in the context of the question.

Assume the same bullshit generator is on display in an art gallery installation - what exactly is the piece of art here? Is it the generated result or the generator itself?

Let's look at a couple of more similar examples like this. For instance, the Bullshit Job Title Generator - similarly directed satire and similar execution as compared to the press release tool:



Here you just have three columns of dictionary entries which are grouped together with the method of randomization. All you need to do is click on the button to generate a job title.

An identical process can be found in the Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator, which I think is particularly excellent for generating all the stupid mash-up terms that you need to underline that the field you are working is so cutting edge that you are constantly struggling to find the vocabulary to describe it:




Or what about this Mission Statement Generator - particularly interesting to me today since I am actually supposed to come up with a mission statement for my work:



All of these examples share the common feature of effortless, one-click generation, which is almost essential to their message - that the contribution to progress of society of such mission statements, job titles and press releases is about as significant as a single mouse click.

So, on the one hand, you have a message in the effortlessness, but on the other, you have a very high degree of autonomy with the generative tool, and I think the level of autonomy brings up some questions about the nature of authorship with regard to such applications, and the relationship between the author and the work in terms of the generated result and the generator itself.

In the above cases, the authors of the the works can be no other than the people who programmed the generator. You might as well set it to load automatically with the page and you would eliminate my input the process altogether, so the only person who can claim authorship is the author of the source code.

But what if set up my own piece of generative art based on certain preexisting generative tools to which I add my own artistic configuration? Do I share authorship with whoever devised the generative algorithms, or is the work of art defined solely with the result of the generative process?

For instance, it seems counter-intuitive to say that a piece of electronic music is authored by the creator of the drum sample humanizer algorithm that I was talking about in a previous post. Or that you would owe royalties to the person who pushed through the idea of a parameter variable randomizer module on a software synthesizer, as you are benefiting from from a sound that is the result of nothing more than his design.

Yet you would probably agree that my push of the button does not constitute authorship of the resulting corporate bullshit of the tools outlined above in any conventional sense of the word. The authorship of the satire belongs to the programmer, not me.

Of course, I'm analytically all over the place here - mixing concepts that belong to the realm of intellectual property law and more philosophical ponderings about ownership in general, but the question could be worth while exploring nevertheless, as you might have more and more generative tools emerge in the near future, and the boundaries between author and audience, designer and user could blur even further.

But beside the questions of authorship that might arise from the relationship between the creator and the creator of his tools, my chosen examples also seem to illustrate a certain attitude towards generativity.

It's as if the generative process itself is derogatory. The message, after all, seems to be that something is so dull, stupid and predicable that it can be generated.

I was reminded of the last task in which we had to read up about effective complexity as a measure to evaluate generative art - that the ideal amount of generative complexity in an art work is determined by the balance between complete order and total disorder.

So, perhaps, if people seem to be prone to attributing a derogatory meaning to generativity, the general state of generative content creation is still perceived as being in a phase characterized by its inability to achieve effective complexity?

It might be a stretch to base a claim one way or the other based on just a rummage through some of these examples, but I was nevertheless left with these types of questions after having played around with them a little bit.

But I think there is definitely an attitude towards generativity that seems to be shot through with a certain amount of pessimism. It seems to be more associated with automation, drone-work, the lifelessness and soullessness of a robot algorithm, and that's a pretty strongly loaded evaluation. I just wonder if generative art as a whole suffers in some way in the likely presence of this predisposition?

I'm going to wind this post up now, as I fear that I've gone slightly over budget in terms of length, but I want to leave the questions about authorship and the perception of generativity here as a foundation to possibly build the final project upon. It would be nice to utilize some sort of ideas that would really push both considerations to their limits and see if any clarity about them could be found in their practical application.

References:

Galanter, Philip. 2003. What is generative art? Complexity theory as a context for art theory. In In GA2003–6th Generative Art Conference

The Generator Blog
http://generatorblog.blogspot.com/

Atari 2600 Label Maker
http://www.labelmaker2600.com/

Corpspeak: infinite corporate bullshit generator
http://lurkertech.com/corpspeak/

Bullshit Job Title Generator
http://www.bullshitjob.com/title/

Mission Statement Generator 2.0
http://www.evilgeniusmarketing.com/mission-statement-generator.cfm

The Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator
http://emptybottle.org/bullshit/index.php
http://jakobkangur.blogspot.com/2010/12/post-3-applying-theories.html

1 comments:

Jakob Kangur

20.12.2010 10:31
This week we are applying the theories we learned about in the previous weeks in our Generative Content Creation course to concrete examples of generative art.


We were lucky to have been presented with a big list of examples with loads of different generative works. Some of them are downloadable, some are web-based, some fall more into the category of tools and some are just things to play with.

One of my favorites among the links was The Generator Blog, which indexes a huge amount of small generative software. The picture above is from an Atari 2600 Label Maker application, which I found on the very same blog.

I scanned through the list of software on that site and I found some of the stuff on there pretty interesting in terms of the context of how these small generative tools are used for the purpose of social satire. There is a lot of generative software that is humorously critical of some sort of social phenomena.

The reason why it's interesting, particularly to me, is twofold: first, I always maintain that any artwork should be evaluated based on its relationship to society; and second, it's interesting because they reveal something about our attitude towards generativity in general.

I remember Philip Galanter mentioned Jackson Pollock in his article on Complexity Theory in the readings of Week 46. The question analyzed there was whether or not he could be considered a generative artist, but, regardless of that, Pollock, I think, serves as a very good example of what I mean by the importance of "relationship with society" in terms of good art.

Essentially, I believe the best pieces of art always indulge in some form of social upheaval. Art should always aspire to rebel against a sorry state of affairs, in a way. You can do that exceptionally well with art, because it seems to have a unique and efficient ability to call into question the very fabric of how a society comprehends itself. Hence, to me, the goal of art should always be to engage society in dialogue.

So what could possibly provoke dialogue in the seemingly random squirts of paint in Pollock's works? It's very easy to invoke the standard objection to abstract expressionism of the art philistine here - that I could probably whip something similar up myself, and dismiss it as a fad.

Visually speaking, perhaps one could indeed achieve a similar aesthetic. However, the point is that you could probably never achieve the same social significance in terms of what Pollock meant 60 years ago in a post-war moment in time, no matter how algorithmic your technique. After all, what was produced was not interestingly coloured wallpaper, but instead a statement on creation in general, as well as on the principles at the heart of society that govern it.

So, I'm always looking for the social commentary of art, and what's interesting with some of the little pieces of software on The Generator Blog is that generativity itself is used as a device to make that social commentary.

I've selected a few generative works that I would cheekily categorize as rebellious against "bullshit" - the meaningless marketing and corporate fluff that pollutes our media, in which you use the generative process to bypass any sort of effort or consideration towards certain mannerisms.

Prime examples include apps like Corpspeak: infinite corporate bullshit generator:


As you can see, it automatically generates long sections of text full of jargon-infected gibberish and it is obviously a satire on the general barren nature of press releases and the corporate attitudes and practices that result in them.

You have the basic characteristics of generative art present in this example. There is an underlying system of language rules and an algorithm to arrange the jargon dictionary entries into something that mimics sentences. The software creates the work with a significant amount of autonomy and the author gives up some of his creative control in the process. In fact, in this particular case, you might say too much control is given up, as the only input from the "author" in the standard version is the press of a button. However, there is a customization option where you are free to modify the source code and dictionary to make the generator behave differently.

It brings up an interesting question, though: how much autonomy can a generative piece of art have before the author loses his authorship entirely? Is that even a logical possibility?

Let's say, for the sake of the argument, that we are indeed dealing with a piece of art here, as it might be argued that a text generator is not art, but it doesn't really matter in the context of the question.

Assume the same bullshit generator is on display in an art gallery installation - what exactly is the piece of art here? Is it the generated result or the generator itself?

Let's look at a couple of more similar examples like this. For instance, the Bullshit Job Title Generator - similarly directed satire and similar execution as compared to the press release tool:



Here you just have three columns of dictionary entries which are grouped together with the method of randomization. All you need to do is click on the button to generate a job title.

An identical process can be found in the Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator, which I think is particularly excellent for generating all the stupid mash-up terms that you need to underline that the field you are working is so cutting edge that you are constantly struggling to find the vocabulary to describe it:




Or what about this Mission Statement Generator - particularly interesting to me today since I am actually supposed to come up with a mission statement for my work:



All of these examples share the common feature of effortless, one-click generation, which is almost essential to their message - that the contribution to progress of society of such mission statements, job titles and press releases is about as significant as a single mouse click.

So, on the one hand, you have a message in the effortlessness, but on the other, you have a very high degree of autonomy with the generative tool, and I think the level of autonomy brings up some questions about the nature of authorship with regard to such applications, and the relationship between the author and the work in terms of the generated result and the generator itself.

In the above cases, the authors of the the works can be no other than the people who programmed the generator. You might as well set it to load automatically with the page and you would eliminate my input the process altogether, so the only person who can claim authorship is the author of the source code.

But what if set up my own piece of generative art based on certain preexisting generative tools to which I add my own artistic configuration? Do I share authorship with whoever devised the generative algorithms, or is the work of art defined solely with the result of the generative process?

For instance, it seems counter-intuitive to say that a piece of electronic music is authored by the creator of the drum sample humanizer algorithm that I was talking about in a previous post. Or that you would owe royalties to the person who pushed through the idea of a parameter variable randomizer module on a software synthesizer, as you are benefiting from from a sound that is the result of nothing more than his design.

Yet you would probably agree that my push of the button does not constitute authorship of the resulting corporate bullshit of the tools outlined above in any conventional sense of the word. The authorship of the satire belongs to the programmer, not me.

Of course, I'm analytically all over the place here - mixing concepts that belong to the realm of intellectual property law and more philosophical ponderings about ownership in general, but the question could be worth while exploring nevertheless, as you might have more and more generative tools emerge in the near future, and the boundaries between author and audience, designer and user could blur even further.

But beside the questions of authorship that might arise from the relationship between the creator and the creator of his tools, my chosen examples also seem to illustrate a certain attitude towards generativity.

It's as if the generative process itself is derogatory. The message, after all, seems to be that something is so dull, stupid and predicable that it can be generated.

I was reminded of the last task in which we had to read up about effective complexity as a measure to evaluate generative art - that the ideal amount of generative complexity in an art work is determined by the balance between complete order and total disorder.

So, perhaps, if people seem to be prone to attributing a derogatory meaning to generativity, the general state of generative content creation is still perceived as being in a phase characterized by its inability to achieve effective complexity?

It might be a stretch to base a claim one way or the other based on just a rummage through some of these examples, but I was nevertheless left with these types of questions after having played around with them a little bit.

But I think there is definitely an attitude towards generativity that seems to be shot through with a certain amount of pessimism. It seems to be more associated with automation, drone-work, the lifelessness and soullessness of a robot algorithm, and that's a pretty strongly loaded evaluation. I just wonder if generative art as a whole suffers in some way in the likely presence of this predisposition?

I'm going to wind this post up now, as I fear that I've gone slightly over budget in terms of length, but I want to leave the questions about authorship and the perception of generativity here as a foundation to possibly build the final project upon. It would be nice to utilize some sort of ideas that would really push both considerations to their limits and see if any clarity about them could be found in their practical application.

References:

Galanter, Philip. 2003. What is generative art? Complexity theory as a context for art theory. In In GA2003–6th Generative Art Conference

The Generator Blog
http://generatorblog.blogspot.com/

Atari 2600 Label Maker
http://www.labelmaker2600.com/

Corpspeak: infinite corporate bullshit generator
http://lurkertech.com/corpspeak/

Bullshit Job Title Generator
http://www.bullshitjob.com/title/

Mission Statement Generator 2.0
http://www.evilgeniusmarketing.com/mission-statement-generator.cfm

The Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator
http://emptybottle.org/bullshit/index.php
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