On March 27th, the first ever algorithm auction took place at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The auction was managed by the Museum and Artsy, while auction’s guest list included names such as Wendi Deng and Larry Gagosian. So, it was a quite serious art sale event. The Algorithm Auction was also the world’s first auction celebrating the art of code and computer arts. The auction itself was created by Ruse Laboratories, a new company that hopes to get people to regard computer code as art, while all proceeds will benefit the Cooper Hewitt, which began acquiring code for its permanent collection in 2013. Parallel with all the developments in computer arts that culminated with the above mentioned auction, a heated debate about computer codes as new form began, especially after the book Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty by Vikram Chandra was published. Are computer codes and algorithms art? Are programmers and hackers artists? Those questions are in the very center of the ongoing debate about the position of computer arts in wider contemporary art scene.
A list of programmers and artists representing computer codes in artistic form is quite big. Artists who are linked with computer arts are usually labeled as interactive artists, meaning that they push the artistic possibilities of computer codes. It is possible to divide interactive artists in two major groups: the first ones are those who are interested in representing code itself – its aesthetical and conceptual value; the second group of interactive artists are those who are more interested in using codes for creating pieces of art that represent the practical value of codes, while final computer arts works can take have different forms (i.e. video art, installations, performance art). At the first ever Algorithm auction we mentioned in introduction, works from the first group of interactive artists was dominating. For example, Hal Abelson’s Turtle Geometry is a printout of the foundational algorithm that President Obama used last December, when he became the first President to write a line of code. He typed a command in the '60s-era teaching language Logo, whose signal application was derived through “turtle graphics”—a system by which students could drive a robot. The system was developed by the artist himself, who is a professor at the electrical engineering and computer science department at MIT.
The latter group of interactive artists creates works where codes are not directly represented, but the final piece of art represents the creative and practical value of computer code. Artists and creative people from different fields who are gathered around DevArt platform use technology as the canvas and code as the raw materials to create innovative, engaging digital art installations. For example, Zach Lieberman, New York-based artist and educator creates installations and performances investigating audiovisual expression and new forms of drawing.
OK, there is something called computer arts and algorithmic art, and there are artists representing codes as a form of art. However, there are many voices who criticize the fact that computer codes (including computer arts) could be an art form at all. Yes, coders are creative, productive; the result of their work can be a beautiful installation. But, what about scientists or scholars, for example? If we follow the above mentioned characteristics of coders, we may ask why physicians or chemists are not artists as well? They are also creative and productive, creating beautiful things as the result of their work. Many argue that computer arts trivialize art itself. Everybody can be an artist, then. It’s not even about aesthetics when it comes to coders, as conceptual art proves. Those claiming that just because coders can create beautiful digital art are artists therefore, should recall the famous work by the queen of performance art, Marina Abramovic Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful. No, art does not have to be beautiful. Finally, as Vikram Chandra argues, art is about affect, associations, and emotional responses. Art can be irrational and leave some of the most important things unspoken. On the other hand, code is practical and logical, rational.
There are many arguments claiming that computer arts or art of code cannot be considered as art at all. However, there is the simple fact that there are artists, programmers, coders and hackers who create art. It’s simply recognized on art market, as the auction Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum shows. It’s likely that the number of so-called interactive artists will increase, as technology is developing day after day, and the world is flooded with digital products, with codes as their main mover. The debate about codes and computer arts as new form of art will certainly continue; however, something called computer arts or algorithm art or art of codes is being recognized by main art actors.
All Images used for illustrative purposes only.