PRINT March 2001

Art and Code

SAUL ANTON: I know an artist who hand-codes all his digital art. For him, this is the true level of art production in the computer/digital environment. Is he right?

LAWRENCE RINDER: As it happens, there are actually several artists in “BitStreams” who take a kind of perverse pride in knowing almost nothing about digital technology. I am open to this kind of approach in part because what I think is going on is an exploration, not of digital technology per se, but rather of the metaphors we have begun to construct around it. The usefulness of digital technology as a metaphor depends as much on our fantasies of what is digital as on what really is digital. But to answer your question, John Maeda and John F. Simon, Jr., are the two people I'm most familiar with who incorporate the writing of code as an integral part of their art practice. I believe that for Maeda this approach carries a certain amount of ideological weight, insofar as he feels an almost ethical pressure to free himself from the constraints of off-the-shelf code. Simon, on the other hand, seems to write his own code less for philosophical than for purely aesthetic reasons. I suspect that if Simon could achieve an effect he desired with products like Flash or PhotoShop he wouldn't hesitate to use them.

BENJAMIN WEIL: I recall the words of Holger Friese, a German artist who primarily works online, who once said he was appalled by the look of some artists' html code! I can relate to this idea, although I may not necessarily subscribe to it. Larry, in regard to John Simon, I disagree. Simon epitomizes the type of artist who is more interested in the concept than in realization. He has shown a sustained interest in producing multiplatform projects. That's why Every Icon, 1997, is still recognized as one of his best works. It's right in the “ CAD file” category. He defines his work as software, and that means he's more interested in the executability of a set of instructions than in the final appearance.

AARON BETSKY: I'm interested in code less as an artifact than as a generative force—whether for aesthetics or new objects. But, again, it's not neutral; it's not just material. It's written and used. Sometimes it generates criticism of that culture through noise or blur or merely by creating so-called slow space within the fast flows of capital. And there's my answer to Mark Dery's worries about Net art as the R&D wing of the culture industry: Sometimes you just have to mess things up, and great artists make great messes.

PETER LUNENFELD: Do I care about code? No more than I care if a photographer makes her own prints or a sculptor casts her own bronzes. Fetishizing code is boring and reflects the solipsism of those who fall too deeply into the machine.