Bruns and Dewey

Bruns argues that a composer at a desk constructs the piece step by step, and accompanies the process, witnessing every detail; therefore, having the capacity to edit “consequences, redundancies and the like, can audaciously, bitterly, moodily or lazily modify everything by direct, point by point inspection of what they had just written or of what they were just about to be write”. The composer who writes a program inputs the instruction as codes and the computer takes care of the rest—he can only edit the entire program after the computer has digested it fully.

The validity of each, in my opinion, is explained in Brun’s interpretation of systems, states and algorithms, which are essential to the composer’s process. Here he argues that a system is defined by its information potential and by the algorithms that control that particular system. Two systems are compatible with each other when they are similarly defined. He states that the largest, most general and most flexible systems controllable today are the high speed digital computers. It is a system that is compatible with all others due to its high network potential that offers conditions for nearly any algorithm one can think of. Earlier in the article he states that “Contemporary ways of creating music have generated new means of musical understanding (…) It not only will show noticeable changes in the concept of the acoustical system, not only propose new schemes of organization, but also provoke the creation of new circuits in the listener’s mind”. I interpreted this to mean that the digital age, and its systems of functioning bring about new forms of understanding and structuring art/music in ways that were not thought about before. It is less participatory in the sense that the composer is not able to see all the steps taken by the computer; however, it is a new system within itself that induces different approaches when analyzing it.

Dewey talks a lot about the idea of an experience and art through experience. He believes that impulsion is the initial stage of any experience because it is the movement of an organism as a whole towards something. Impulsion proceeds from the need that can be supplied only through relationships with one’s environment. He goes on to say that “an environment that allows our impulses to be executed immediately will set a “term to growth” […] impulsion forever boosted on its forward way would run its course thoughtless, and dead to emotion for it would not have to give an account of itself in terms of the things it encounters and hence they would not become significant objects” (Dewey 59). This to me expresses a pessimistic view towards artistic development and experience in the digital age. Given that the environment today allows any impulsion to be executed immediately due to every growing presence of technology and automaticity throughout society, the inherent meaning of experience and its relation to the environment is compromised. Dewey argues that “obstacles generate emotions and authenticity – resistance rises curiosity and solicitous care”. In an environment where any impulsion can be translated seamlessly through technology, it is difficult to imagine how expression and experience can be complete without the obstacles and resistance present in “old” times.

Furthermore, Dewey goes on to say that art needs a passionate subject to be generated from. “The real work of art is the building up of an integral experience out of the interaction of organic and environmental conditions and energies (…) the act of expression that constitutes a work of art is a construct of time, not an instant emission” (65). Through the use of metaphors and analogies Dewey explains that the work of art is a composition of factors fermenting inside the human mind with situations presented by the environment. Impulsion is a necessary condition for expression; however, the real value of art and aesthetics is a construct of time, tradition and context. In the digital age, these concepts seem to be often lost due to the sheer magnitude of works being produced given the mechanic and rapid nature of their production. Dewey’s theory allows me to understand that it is not one thing that constitutes the act of producing something with aesthetic value, but a combination of internal and external forces and energies that propel an eventual artistic expression.

 

What stroke me the most in both the perspectives narrated by the authors is the value of understanding the medium [process] and materials of each of the artistic practices. Their focus on the process of creating something is much greater than the product itself. Both writings attribute the aesthetic value of a piece of art to the translation of materials in a medium. I believe that this process has been interrupted and cut short in many cases by the digital reality we live in today. The interpretation of the work is challenged in the sense that it is difficult to understand the level of artist engagement and intervention in a work constructed digitally. This brings us to many other questions regarding today’s technological age including to what extent is digital art, art/what is music/reproduction vs originality and so on… AHHH!! So confusing!

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3 Comments

  1. Isn’t it crazy that works of the 70s are now challenging us to think about how digital media have been changing our artistic landscape? I found the readings so confusing to, especially when I relate it to the world today. Like you said, “The interpretation of the work is challenged in the sense that it is difficult to understand the level of artist engagement and intervention in a work constructed digitally.” It is also scary to think about what digital will do to us 40 years from now.

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    • The digitalisation of art has in fact led to question the agency of the artist in his work, and therefore authorship in the digital context. In the case of music softwares, as software engineers have agency in the production of the piece, could they somehow also be considered as one of the “authors” of the final piece?

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  2. You make a good point when you say that our current technological capabilities cut short some the struggle or trial and error that comes along with creating a piece of art. In my classroom my students want to just print out pictures from the internet instead of drawing anything! But, I can’t help but think we’re still having experiences that challenge us as individuals, so we still have the ingredients for artistic expression.

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