Art and Software

Our senses only capture a fraction of the world around us. Even that is too much. We simplify, symbolize, rationalize, or ignore to extract some meaning from this mess. The website’s epigraphs assert: we are all artists. We all  use artistic lies.

Picasso states that all art, even representational art cannot represent everything. Art lies, but you can creatively misrepresent to reflect our understanding of the truth. Artistic skill is using misrepresentations, or artistic lies, to convey the truth.

Nietzsche makes the connection more explicit.  Even though we see a tree accurately and completely with all its detail, it is very much easier for us to imagine an approximation of the tree.  Even in the midst of the strangest experiences we fabricate the largest part of the experience.  To put it more virtuously and hypocritically,  it is more pleasant to say we are more artists than we know. Artistic lies are in our nature.

Plato viewed art as mimesis, and therefore a lie because it was only an imitation of an object which itself was only a shadow of the Ideal. To us, with no sense of the ideal, we are left only with the lie.

Neuroscientists might argue that our brains have evolved this way to ensure our survival. Pay attention to the predator or the prey just ahead, ignore the pretty sunset. To survive we create truths out of representations. To survive today we ignored the richness of life. To survive today we might allow a greater danger to arrive tomorrow.

All forms of art try to pull us out of the immediacy to focus on another facet of life. What is the relation to software? Software is invading every part of our technological world. Software developers construct a representation of the world to fit the software they are building. This is obvious in gaming software, but it is true of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, search engines, accounting applications, and missile launch programs. At best what is lost is not relevant to the problem to be solved. At worst, we have unimaginable nightmares.

The world imagined by the designers of the World Wide Web was for the open sharing of static presentations of static information linked through hypertext, not for dynamic electronic commerce or Twitter and YouTube. Identity theft and data ownership were not a concern in the original design. The creators of email never envisioned spam. The imagined world and the real world conflict. In both art and software, the audience has certain expectations, but often does not yet understand what they actually are getting. Marcel Duchamp was the first to explicitly call this out for art –  although the interplay between artist and audience had been going on since the beginning. In the software world, the audience usually has no clue.

Software is an anthropomorphic lie which tries to interact with the user as if it were a comprehending intelligence.  The software architect, designer, or developer must know the means to convince the user of the truth of these lies.  The end result is that when software conflicts with reality, the users blame themselves instead of trying to understand the world for which the software was built. This website is devoted to exploring the relationship between art, technology, life, and how we distort reality to survive.

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