Benjamin and Rancière

Benjamin analyzes the issue of authenticity and technological reproducibility. “Around 1900, technological reproduction not only had reached a standard that permitted it to reproduce all known works of art, profoundly modifying their effect, bit it also captured a place of its own among the artistic processes” (p. 21). What constitutes  the authenticity of a work of art, and how does its manual reproduction differ from a technological one? According to Benjamin, the full authenticity of an original work of art is stronger when compared to a manual reproduction, usually used with the purpose of forgery. Instead, “technological reproduction is more independent of the original” (p. 21). This is principally because technological reproduction can change the function of an original work of art by placing “the copy of the original in situations in which the original itself cannot attain” (p.21). Benjamin also talks about the “tension between two polarities within the artwork itself: […] the artwork’s cult value and its exhibition value” (p. 25). The birth of artistic practice lays in religious ritual, so originally art’s cult value greatly overpowered its exhibition value (think of a god’s statue inside a temple that can be accessed only by one high priest). “With the emancipation of artistic practices from the service of ritual, the opportunities for exhibiting their products increase” (p.25). In Benjamin vision, film is the artistic practice that perfectly exemplifies this shift, because the main characteristic of the medium itself is its reproducibility.

In “The Aesthetic Revolution and its Outcomes,” Rancière compares artistic practice to industrial production: “Both industrial production and artistic creation are committed to doing something else than what they do – to create not only objects but a sensorium, a new partition of the perceptible.” In the age of “infinite reduplication,” where art becomes a commodity that homogenizes the sensible world, “the avant-garde must indefinitely draw the dividing-line that separates art from commodity culture […] to denounce both the promises of revolutionary avant-gardism and the entropy of commodity aestheticization” (p. 148).

Dewey and Brün

In “Art as Experience,” John Dewey defines the elements that constitute artistic expression. In his analysis, “expression […] signifies both an action and its result” (p.82), so to process of creation of a work of art is equally important as its form in which the audience will relate to it. The process of art creation is defined by Dewey as taking origin in an impulsion, or necessity, generated by a relation of the artist to their surrounding and generating in them an emotion. This has then to go through a process of selection – of emotional material as well as medium of communication. This brings to another factor necessary in the artistic practice – that of the “existence of motor dispositions previously formed” (p. 97), or the set of skills and previously learned information that an artist, not differently from a surgeon or an athlete, needs to have in order to be able to convey an artistic message through a chosen medium. The perceiver of an artistic message also needs to have a similar sort of “aesthetic education” (p.98), that will allow them to “decode” the message of the artist in the correct way.

Herbert Brün analyzes the aesthetic properties of computer-generated music by comparing composition and programming. Both are defined as systems that share the purpose of conveying some sort of communication, defined in its turn as “based on analogies, on degrees of compatibility between different systems.” Programming is similar to composition, in that, given a virtually endless set of possibilities, users “find or construct the system in which their problems can be expressed and solved.” Both composers who work with a computer or who write with pen on paper are faced with the same choices. But “there is a difference. The composers at a desk generate the piece step by step” and can “edit while they work. The composer who write a program has to predict all of that, is then out of the game while the computer executes the given instruction.”

I think that the core of artistic expression and aesthetic value, that can be found in both Dewey’s and Brün’s vision, is intentionality. In Dewey, it refers to the choice of what emotion to convey and through what medium. In Brün, it can refer to the set of parameters that a computer-based composer needs to encode in a program in order to achieve a desired compositional effect. In this sense, I don’t think that the fundamental engagement of an artist with new media differs much from “old” media. In both cases, a process internal to the artist has to happen, and a set of skills is needed in order for the artist to express this internal process. Definitely the material form of a medium plays a role in the nature of its mediation. Brün’s choice of composing computer-generated music in the 60’s and 70’s, at a time when human agency felt threatened by the rise of automation, is certainly a message in itself. A visual artist who chose to use primarily oil painting in 2016, in a society where images are predominantly constituted by digital photography, would make another type of provocative use of media.

New Media and Art

Dewey explores the characteristics of the art experience. He explains that a work of art represents the true nature that the creator experiences. The aesthetic experience is not found in museums, or in books. It is in the action of the person. Aesthetic is different for every human. When an individual is engaged in their practice, they are experiencing aesthetic enjoyment. The real art is in making the object. Art is the purist form of the human experience. It comes from emotion within the soul. It organizes the chaos of daily experience into its own meaning. It is not that artists perceive the world differently than others, but its how they make sense of it. The colors, shapes and lines that decide to use, is language that translates their relationship to their experience. What the artists view as important is a result of their own past experiences. Dewey States “In such experiences, every successive part flows freely, without seam and without unfilled blanks, into what ensues” Dewey states that art changes through time. The original work that artists make holds the deepest experience because it is in its purist nature.

Brun’s article was a little confusing for me. I thought it was interesting that he was so ahead of his time, when computers were not even part of everyday life. He discusses the difference between the original tradition of writing music versus the digital way. He says that composer who creates with pencil and paper is more hands on when creating the music. He states the computer can “witness the process in every detail and thus can add or withdraw 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.” Meanwhile the composer who is using the computer risks truly being part of the creative experience. Only at the end of the computer run, can they edit what was created. The computer’s process takes away the human nature of creating the piece. The computer can create new meaning to the music because emotion of the musician is left out from the new media. It is a different experience that generated a new understanding of the music. Music is brought into a new light with technology, and the opportunities to analyze it. Bruns state that the computer does not threaten to replace humans, but its up to us to understand the systems themselves and how it can conquer chaos.

Both views of Bruns and Dewey state the importance of the actions that go into the aesthetics of art. The experience plays a huge role in the personal value of the piece. An artist’s engagement with digital media differs from “old” media, because digital media creates a new world within itself. The whole step-by-step human process that goes into creating art is more valuable than it’s overall outcome. Musician’s and Artists go through a human ritual of creating. They are living through the art, and making it come to life. Artists are able to organize chaos they experience and communicate it. The meaning has to do with the intention they put in it.

 

Dewey and Brun

Consider Dewey’s ideas about artistic practice, and Brun’s ideas about composition.

How does an artist’s engagement with digital or new media differ from “old” media? Does understanding the material form of a media help you to understand the nature of its mediation?

Where do meaning and aesthetic value come from in these views?

Dewey seems to have many requirements of what constitutes art or an “act of expression.” The experience that creates an act of expression has to begin with an “impulsion” not an impulse. These impulsions are driven by need. Like the impulsion of a child to cry may be driven by the need for food.

But, not all impulsions create acts of expressions. Acts of expression have to have meaning. These acts are conditioned by the environment and outside influences to create art. I think. And Dewey feels there cannot be art without emotion. The emotion has to be spent “indirectly” on the art and has an effect on all the components of the art piece like hue, shade, tone, unity, etc.

Brun talks about a “rational relationship” that creates music or a “work of art.” There exists a limitless universe of audible phenomena and they are meshed with a “defined image” to create a limited sub-system which is the music. But, is it still considered a work of art to use this system on a computer? Or is a new definition needed to create the definition of a work of art produced on a computer? He argues that music is supposed to create different ideas and “circuits in the listener’s mind,” so if computer production allows for this, I suppose it is considered a work of art or music.

Brun says that if we know what music is, than we won’t have any. We know what music “was” because we have studied it. But, if you ask a composer was music “is” then they tell you it “is to be.” Following this logic, I feel like computer-produced music constitutes music.

I dunno.

Dewey and Brün

The creative process of an artist can be greatly modified by the participation or lack of participation of new technologies. Herbert Brün, a pioneer in computer music, chooses to point out the lack of editing capabilities that computer music had compared to composing with pen and paper in 1973, a quality that is no longer a fact with today’s technology. Today’s music technology has surpassed pen and paper by a landslide, a composer can edit not only notes, but also add intentions to the interpretation with an instant reproduction of what is being modified. Today’s technology makes the process of composing ten times faster than using pen and paper, it has also replaced the need for a real orchestra, and lowered music production costs. As the composing process gets faster one might speculate that in a capitalist industry the artist has less attachment to his work than when composers used to spent hours writing and erasing on staff paper.

John Dewey differentiates between a reactive primal discharge of emotion and planned aesthetic expression. According to Dewey, a true expression is a consequence of adversity and engages the public invoking a certain emotional reaction in them. Expressing an aesthetic idea requires a complete understanding of the environment and of the adversity that surrounds it, understanding the meaning is important in expression. To differentiate expression with a primal discharge of emotions there has to be also a certain mechanical training to achieve proper technique that may assist in conveying the message more efficiently.

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!

“Without emotion there may be craftsmanship, but not art…”

 

“Without emotion there may be craftsmanship, but not art…” This.  This makes all of the sense in the world, but is baffling all at the same time.  When I read Dewey’s words, obsessing over what art is comprised of, this line made his thoughts clear.  A well thought out project; a carefully designed building is not necessarily art – it is craftsmanship.  When that craftsmanship is paired with emotion and a deep understanding and draw to the project, then it is art.  However, is it art if it lacks craftsmanship?  Is emotion and passion in a project enough to constitute something as artful when it may not be well crafted?  Is a sloppy finger painting art?  Sure, it is emotion, but there is no craftsmanship; there is only paint splattered on the paper.

However, this seems to be a polarizing idea within myself.  Why can not pure emotional exodus contribute to great art?  Why is it necessary for the artist to toil away in suffering to contribute to the ether a product of his suffering which is ill fated to be recognized after his death?  I have many times created out of passion and happiness – no torture.  Okay sure, Dewey wrote this in the 1930s so perhaps my perceived stubbornness within his writing is a result of the time warp between then and now?

Now, Brun…what to say about Brun.  I honestly feel as though I need a crash course in computer programming to fully understand Brun.  What I did gather though is his resistance to electronically composed music?  Again, I am going to attribute this resistance to the fact that this piece was written in 1973.  However, computer assisted music composition has come so far from Pac-Man esque sounds and now incorporates more emotion that ever before.  The computer is just another tool – like a piano or a guitar.  It has different cords, more varied and can transform the sound of tapping keys into a bass line so dense you’ll drop.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I really didn’t find these articles to be relevant to our modern world.  Perhaps when they were written? But not now. For sure not now.  These two men held views that aesthetic value comes from extreme struggle, work and effort.  However, my belief is if that emotion is involved, there is automatically effort.  Art is a lifetime of effort, compacted by every experience and secreted into something representative of a particular stance in the universe.  It is not about understanding what the meaning behind the art is, but instead understanding that there is meaning behind the art.  It has always been favorable to me when viewing art to destroy my notions about the world to fully connect with the piece.