Conceptual Categories and the Creative Process:
The Shifting Conceptual Hierarchy:
Art (and most other forms of human activity) can be contextualised with
the help of a conceptual hierarchy. On one level "Art" includes
literature and music -while on another level it limits itself to the
visual arts -or perhaps even painting. However, even the concept of
"painting" covers a multitude of sins and "visual Art" can include
printmaking, photography and perhaps even film and video.
Sometimes these catgories become unstable shapeshifters as they move
from one context to another. Strictly speaking "sound art" is
presumably not part of "visual art" -although it is part of "time-based
art" which, in turn, came out of a primarily static tradition of
"visual art" trying to adapt to a dynamic and increasingly faster
Interrogating the Categories:
So perhaps the true measure of creativity in the arts can be found in
the nature of the dialogue between these various categories. How does
"painting" react to "film", how does "sculpture" react to "painting"
-or "printmaking" to "photography"?
One might also question the value
of such categories -do the various media provide useful tools which can
function as different "languages" which allow for the creative
development of new insights because of the nature of the medium -or do
the various traditions only hinder the thinking process by imposing
outmoded and useless standards on the artist? Does "religious art" have
anything to say to "secular art" (or vice versa) and how does
"commercial" and "applied" art relate to "fine art"?
Maybe the categorisation process can help in articulating the dialectic
between "progress" and "preservation" -or between "revolution"and
"continuity". While some artistic traditions look forward to the way
human experience might evolve by being enriched by an embracing of the
new -other traditions look backwards to find value in a continuity with
the past. While some artistic practices can become laboratories for the
future -others can become havens which protect, preserve and develop
our understanding of the past.
The Dialogue between Traditions:
As a consequence, it would seem that (apart from those who feel the
need to work within the confines of a specific tradition or medium) -in
general, the value of any artistic tradition lies not so much in itself
as in its relationship with other traditions. For although non practioners,
may value some specific message (or set of messages) presumably created by a specific artist -the value of a specific
artistic practice is probably found more in the way that this practice
contributes to the on-going dialogue on practice in art and society: By
demonstrating the range and potential consequences of the range of
practices currently available to the artist and their public.
If this "dialogue on practice" is a complex and continually shifting
set of beliefs about the nature of the medium -which is difficult
enough to follow when dealing with traditonal media in an art historical context -then how more
complex must it be when trying to integrate more recent technologies
into artistic practice.....
Diversity in Unity:
On one level, technology seems to be solving the debate about "media"
in the arts. As one might expect from a technology based on a "universl
simulation machine" (which exemplifies the early 20th centurary
mathematical conceptualisation of the computer) -"Digital Technology"
is gradually learning to simulate all the existing artistic techniques
and is thus apparently reducing them to a single artistic practice.
However, if the dialogue between the different media (and the implied
or inherent practices associated with them) is of great fundamental
value to a creative arts practice -then perhaps we should be concerned
by the subsumation of the variety of artistic practice into a single
"mega-practice" which allows no deviation or alternative.
On the other hand, in traditional media, technology does not generally
seem to dictate "practice" as much as one might think. If, for example,
we look at "film" then the use of the camera by all film-makers has not
reduced film-making to a single genre. There are still distinctions
between (scientific, artistic and social) documentaries, drama and
animation (which, traditionally, has also taken on a large number of
forms -involving both images and objects created in a variety of
styles). Presumably, "painting" is also based on a single (basic)
technology (the application of paint to a ground) and yet even this
simple basic process masks a wide variety of artistic practices -which,
in curatorial terms, would surely be rather difficult to deal with as a
single, simply medium based conceptual category.
Diverse Digital Dogmas:
Indeed, looking at international practice with regard to "Digital art"
-we may superficially see a focus on "fotoshop" and "animation" which
disolves the conceptual categories -but a closer inspection would
reveal a confusing plethora of practices involving the use of both
commercial and custom built software and hardware. Current practices
now involve a wide range of activities relating to different aspects of
digital technology -exploiting their charateristics in different ways.
"Web-art" is perhaps different to "Net.art" which differs (in varying
degrees) from "Software art", "Computer art", "New Media art", "Virtual
Art", "Immersive Art", "Interactive Art", "Electronic Sound Art",
"Soundscape", "Ambient Art" or art based on games and/or artificial
From Image to Process:
Video, animation and the various image manipulation techniques
(commercially) promoted under "digital art" generally focus on the
image -and mask the greater revolution going on behind the scenes
-which is the shift from "image" to "process". True, this shift (which
was possibly started by the "parametrical" work of the
architect/composer Xenakis in the 60's) has been reflected in the more
traditional (non-digital) art world by "performance" and "conceptual"
artists such as Joseph Bueys -but in the digital art world (seen or
unseen, conciously or unconciously) it is "process" that rules the
roost -even though mainstream digital art practice seems to deny this by focussing on ICT and not algorithms (except as tools).
"Digital technology" is fundamentally the "processing" of information
(in "digital" form). The original conceptual model of the computer the
"Turing" machine -saw "computation" basically as the substitution of
one bit of stored information by another bit of stored information.
This seems to suggest a division between "processing" and that which is
"processed" (the information).
However, (as the Turing machine also
tends to suggest) "information" is not a static thing: It has been
decribed as "The difference that makes a difference" -in other words,
we need something to change -in order to give it meaning (which in
turn, may refer to the state of change of something else). When the
whistle blows then we might know that it is lunchtime -but if a
whistle is being blown continuously then it can signal that lunch is
ready only by stopping!
Indeed, "change" can be important -not
only as a carrier of information about something else -it can also be
interesting in its own right. It is only when something changes that we
can gain insight into the nature of the phenomenon concerned by
studying the effects of the change. Without "change" there is also no
knowledge. In practice, "process" (and context) not only modify
"information" -they define it too. Without the "process" of
intepretation "information" simply has no meaning. In fact, this even
works on perceptual level. A perceptual signal that stays constant will
gradually fade away and not be reconised by the perceptual system.
The Categorical Process:
So, in one sense, it is the concept of "process" that brings us back to
the beginning -back to the "process" of categorisation. Not only does
"categorisation" help to organise our thoughts and actions, so that we
can remain "focussed" (and effective) in our actions, but (as suggested
earlier) the "dialogue" between the various categories as to
their definition and function also play an important role in the
creative process. In fact, the process of categorising the percieved
and experienced differences and similarities in various conceptual
spaces may indeed be a fundamental part of the creative thought process
Indeed, perhaps it is in the area of "conceptual categorisation" that
"Digital Technology" reveals its greatest threat to the creative
process. Undoubtdly, digital technology is revolutionising our lives
-but the esoteric nature of the increasingly ubiquitous machine faces
us with a simple choice: Do we alienate ourselves from the principles
and practices that underly the practical functioning of the machine
that increasingly rules our lives -or do we embrace the knowledge and
understanding that these processes might offer us? On the one hand, we
can become the helpless slaves of a commercial system based on the
exploitation of our ignorance -or we can attempt to become (and remain)
the masters of our own destiny through knowledge and understanding.
If indeed the dialogue between the various artistic practices is an
important factor in creative development -and if indeed our artists and
general population are to master the intricasies of digital technology
(or any other social development) -then surely the whole issue of
"Digital Art" needs to be approached (and dealt with) within a far
wider perspective than that offered by commercial image manipulation
and animation. However, this is a complex issue -because experience,
expectation, opportunity and "freedom of choice" are all interlinked.
One cannot produce innovatory work if the facilities are not available
-and even if the facilities are available then they will not be fully
utalised if the vision provided by the social and cultural environment
is too limited.
It is only within a specific context that objects and processes can be
evaluated -because different contexts create different value systems.
It is within a specific context that certain skills are developed and
others are neglected -or even discouraged.
It is the importance of context that makes it essential to create a
wide range of actual and potential contexts -because without a range of
contexts there can be no rational choice.
Despite the apparent denial of the value of context and medium by many
practitioners of "Digital technology" -it seems that, ultimately, in
theory and practice "context" determines everything.
Without the dialogue between the various contexts, creative cognitive development ceases.
Manila, Feb 2006