Emergence, Beauty, Software and Kitsch


Prof. Umberto Roncoroni, BFA

Faculty of Communication Sciences, Universidad de Lima, Perú





The discussion about emergence and generative art has been developed mostly around scientific and technological topics, without too much concern on its aesthetic issues. Besides, form and beauty have been replaced, generally speaking, by the idea of sublime, a philosophical streams that follow the growing scientific interest around chaos, dynamic systems and emergence. And indeed the deconstruction of truth left beauty in the realm of taste and in the visual arts conceptual artists have been developing theoretical processes rather than any engagement with visual forms.

Yet beauty, even when speaking about computers and generative art, is not so easily overrun. I'll try to show that if we accept aesthetic relativism and technology without questioning, the sublime, or the aesthetic freedom of emergence, is jeopardized. Thus, generative and software art will be trapped inside a framework already defined as the death of art and a new kind of kitsch appears: say, the spawning of unnoticed forms of simulacra, self-referent individualism and cultural colonization.

In the first part of this paper I'll introduce, very briefly, the context of the sublime (indetermination and emergence) within digital technology. Then I'll try to show that beauty is not out to date, for three (good or bad) reasons: a) an old aesthetics is actually alive within individual taste; b) the existence, inside science, of epistemological problems and new theories that redefine beauty, the sublime and their relationships with method and truth; c) artificial processes that claim for emergence and autopoiesis are not only based upon these same old aesthetic narratives, but also do not always have a clear definition of emergence inside simulation processes and virtual environments.

The dynamic between beauty and the sublime deeply reflect many unsolved problems that I'll try to focus in the second part of the paper: emergence as an open system, the feedback of knowledge, and the game between determination and indetermination (beauty and the sublime, science and humanities). The confusion between complication and the complex and between emergence and its simulacra that can be easily accepted as true generative processes will show the problematic dimension of technological/computational sublime.

In the third and final part of the paper I will defend the quest for a proper aesthetic framework for emergence and interaction: a) because emergence is fuzzy and open, beauty and sublime should be related with hermeneutics and mayeutic processes; b) in order to sustain true indetermination, a re discussion of aura can't be avoided: it switches from technical reproduction to generative irreproductability

As a conclusion, I hope to find some hypothesis and suggestions to develop generative art without its weakening contradictions, in order to fully exploit its creative and pedagogical applications.


1 Introduction

With the development of digital technology and the interdisciplinary debate that appears to its surroundings, the aesthetic questions have returned up to date issues, along with many new interesting topics. The debate reconsiders many well-known ideas of media criticism, such as Baudrillard' simulacra, but it seems to take a special look at the new contributions derived from the sciences that investigate chaos and dynamic systems (particularly A-Life).

All these topics, flowing somehow around emergence, indetermination and creativity, are directly connected with the old philosophic question of beauty and the sublime that now recovers, especially with beauty, some of its old importance.

In fact, beauty and sublime involve the emergent processes that are the cutting edge of computer science and art, but if we consider that the complex nature of the digital tools (computers, software, interfaces) is not always perceived in its full dimension, then the dynamics among beauty  and the sublime should be re-discussed over different foundations.

In this paper I will try to avoid the seductions of the techno culture to do a more aesthetic investigation that is to seek, through sublime and beauty, the problematic nature of the artistic generative digital systems. In my opinion, we should consider two important topics: in the first place, the still undefined scientific and artistic structures that we may need to sustain that these new media are not only techno toys, but do have some real social and cultural relevance (for instance, in education and communication); secondly, the consistency of artificial emergence and in general, the aesthetic implications of simulation.

So, if I try to defend beauty, it is mainly to underscore that is its relationship with the sublime that allows the unmasking of some wavering aesthetic problems embedded into software and interfaces that are the most important media or tools of generative art. I will try to show that the lack of critic and aesthetic tools not only weakens the innovative potential of these new technologies and their cultural and social functions, but is also the cause of persistent obsolete forms of beauty or " techno kitsch ", that are the principal limitations of many instances of the digital arts.


2 A short survey on the sublime

Before we begin, it is useful to briefly resume some basic concepts about the sublime, because the sublime is, in many senses, the ancestor of emergence and anticipates its aesthetic questions.

It is well known that the discourse of sublime and its relationship with beauty was developed originally with Kant, but, as Gadamer said [1], Kant is also the starting point of the conflict between beauty and truth, that has produced the numerous failures of contemporary art (including its market system, aesthetics, production and pedagogy). This gives a key to understand why contemporary artists, trying to avoid the Kantian genius framework and because of the decorative and superficial nature of beauty, have directed their experiments towards the sublime.

Later on the sublime has been re-proposed by postmodern philosophers, inside the horizon of nihilism, the end of the great narratives and the uncertainty that characterizes our global and mass mediated world.

Finally the sublime appears as "computational sublime" or "technological sublime", a contemporary shape of sublime that owes to the new spaces, processes and media that technology unleashes. Under this point of view, the sublime resides in the disability of our intellectual tools to understand and control what technology can do. This definition of the sublime fits precisely the chaotic, indeterminate, autonomous and parallel aspects of information society and of digital technology, as James Bailey has deeply investigated [2].

But this shift from beauty to the sublime has a side effect: it makes for the loss of any concrete relationship with reality [3] and with history: for art, this loss designs the territory of the sublime as the place where any type of experimentation that crosses art with technology, pseudo science or science fiction seems to be lawful and possible.

For this reason art is now transformed into techno art and goes ahead without any critical tool to verify its instances, each one incommensurable, on the social, cultural and political plane.

But luckily beauty - as order and measure - doesn't allow itself to be so easily eliminated (both for the good and the bad). In fact, when we are sure that it has been bypassed, beauty comes back following unexpected paths and making the terms of the problem in the need of reexamination.

3 The Persistency of Beauty

Now we will take a closer look upon the process that has gradually emarginated beauty from the current aesthetic discourse, it's quite clear that art has been developing its conceptual framework rather than its sensible, perceptive and formal appeals.

In the first place beauty and "aura" have been considered, by post war culture, as a kind of dangerous screen that hides more urgent and radical social problems, favoring in this way conscience manipulation and forcing the agreement with the mainstream through entertainment and consumerism. So the conceptual and experimental paradigm, now embedded into contemporary art, seems a logical form to approach the sublime, in other words, freedom, chaos and creativity. In this sense emergence and generative processes are interpreted as the latest branch of modernist avant-gardes.

Secondly, and here we find the original problem, beauty has lost its epistemological relationship with reality, because postmodern philosophy, dissolving truth and deconstructing narratives, has created a dust of self sustained instances of individual tastes. Inside this hypothesis, as Vattimo has argued, beauty is easily contaminated by kitsch: this is the form of beauty where its problematic links with truth are not recognized, more precisely, where and when beauty fails to assume that truth doesn't exist in the usual stable and deterministic form (that has embraced the incommensurability of the sublime).

3.1 Postmodern and digital illusions

But the deconstruction of the great narratives does not eliminate the beauty-truth relationship because it is simply fragmented, as said before, into a constellation of individual metaphysics (a kind of fractalization or self similarity).

Here spawns a powder of more dangerous statements, because totally out of control, such as some examples of religious or political fanaticism; similarly, in the art field, we allow everything since it enjoys the freedom of the individual taste (with many good reasons Danto or Vattimo can speak of this context as the death or down of art).

This context is boring and dangerous at he same time, because it refuses (or nobody really cares) any questioning of its statements. As a consequence, self reference (art for the sake of art) overflows and the speech is held up in marginal questions, that, in the case of new media arts, is over coated by the illusion of constituting some kind of innovation[4].

Now, all this is easily misunderstood as sublime, because it is apparently emergent and indeterminate; but without a methodical sustenance these individual statements, for what refers to the arts, still rely on the aesthetics that is traditionally transmitted by the cultural industry and the educational system, namely: the Kantian aesthetics of taste and genius, and by economic and political interests.

This way it is easy to see that many of the experimentations that explore emergent and interactive processes remain caught in this romantic aesthetics and do not develop concretely the full range of possibilities of the sublime that they suggest. In many cases, the contributions of contemporary art are also ignored (many of those who deal with these technologies do not have artistic formation, fact that on one hand is a real bonus, but on the other one leaves these technologies without an adequate aesthetic thought). The inverse equation, say artists playing with science and technology, is also true: the problem is that artists ignore the basic foundations of the scientific processes they are including into their artworks. So in both cases its true that art and science remain actually separated.

For this reason the digital arts are so often sustained only because they include some technological breakthrough or some awesome interface or special effects. These are taken as technologically sublime, but they are actually only makeup, postproduction or entertainment. This makeup is what I consider techno kitsch: old beauty and the sublime reduced to consumer technology.

Because of this, the sublime and beauty should be re instantiated, inside the new opened and indeterminate dimension that beauty assumes after its postmodern deconstruction and inside its relationship with science and technology.

3.2 Beauty, the sublime and computers

On the other hand, beauty, in its kitsch and decorative form, is deeply but elusively embedded inside digital tools, namely software and interfaces. For example, all the 3d modeling and animation applications do is to apply old and academic visual languages (renaissance perspective, Leonardo's atmospherics effects, etc.) or impressionist pictorial techniques (Photoshop's filters).

Inside software this old aesthetic works in a very subtle way, because it is hidden inside algorithms and code, in other words, it triggers deterministic processes interfering with the freedom of the user. He, the user, ends up doing only what software (and its embedded aesthetics) allows him to do [5].

The ancient aesthetics also design the visual metaphors of the interfaces (the virtual architecture of the Renaissance memory's palace) and it is rarely figured out that interfaces are filters that design and shape (before the user) the possible virtual worlds. In this case beauty, as graphic design or as special effects of interfaces, is a true form of kitsch, because it forces the sublime and its chaotic indetermination to develop only within the limits of some arbitrary visual language.

Software and interfaces create a contradictory relationship between beauty and the sublime mostly because they hide information and knowledge: these, embedded into code and algorithms, are only visible to us through these filters. For this reason, know-how is not fully delivered to users and the same user who does something with software ignores how it works and upon which foundations it is constructed. Interfaces, namely created to make computer technology and software user-friendly, are in fact tools to hide information and knowledge. The transparency, then, is the hiding of knowledge. This behavior, sometimes implicit some times explicitly engineered, causes a deep weakening of interactive processes.

The paradox here consists of the fact that the sublime is distorted and its effects are only apparent (easily substituted by kitsch); if we mean by the sublime the complex context of information society, the development of knowledge on a planetary scale (the context of Vannevar Bush' Memex), well, this is kept carefully out of interactive media and is actually replaced by the Borgesian Babel Tower of interfaces.

Artworks based on interaction and emergence such as software art, A-Life art, generative art etc. are affected in the same way. In these artistic practices, which rely heavily upon interdisciplinary knowledge, information is not fully shared or is shared in a very limited form; so emergent and generative processes do not develop their sublime potential (their emergent qualities) because the elements of the system remain isolated and unlinked. For this reason generative art, in many cases, is just another form of simulacra: beauty is installed dogmatically (even if unconsciously) and the access to the sublime is only virtual (an object never instantiated or a kind of wishful thinking). 


3.3 Truth, beauty and science

There is another big question involving sublime that in different ways posits for a revaluation of beauty. This challenge does not come from humanities, but from science. Actually, when art and philosophy have put beauty aside as we have seen, the disciplines that claim objective truth as their field of operations have begun to speak openly on beauty and form.

This aesthetic scientific discourse comes to us in two flavors. The first spawns with the deconstruction of scientific epistemology developed by literary criticism and post structuralism: an intellectual landscape that assimilates science with modern and postmodern art. But this kind of idea does do make justice neither to science nor to beauty; in fact, here it is implicitly assumed that art and beauty stand for epistemological anarchy. Nevertheless, they are useful: we will not go after the deconstruction of science [6] but to the fact that beauty exists (even if in an uncertain and contradictory mode) inside methodic sciences. Secondly, we have the new sciences of dynamic systems, chaos, fractals, artificial life, emergence etc., new branches of science that make intense use of computer simulations, computer visualization and aesthetic order and beauty as a kind of laboratory evidence. Beauty here seems epistemologically significant because dynamic systems reveal its order and organization visually, and this is taken as evidence of the process success (It was the strange beauty of the plotting of Zn+1=Z2+C that started the science of fractals).

Again, I don't want and I can't discuss these topics here. Suffice it to say that the simple existence of this discourse is proof that the problem of beauty is still open and needs further investigations. Moreover, the relationship between science and beauty is tricky and misleading: on the one hand science supports beauty as evidence of some kind of truth and complexity calling for a revaluation of beauty (this is OK), on the other hand the use of science to produce beauty goes against emergence and indetermination, because of the scientific and methodical approach (this is not OK).

What is challenged here is the open dimension of beauty and then, its relationship with the sublime, emergence and creativity: in my opinion, the value of the scientific contributions to aesthetics doesn't fit inside the boundaries of art making (such as in A-Life art, for instance), because it is much like an environment or an epistemological support, what we have described as knowledge, information or know-how.

But this new creative dimension, richly although problematically linked with science, will not go any further if it fails to recognize how the concept of beauty has been changed by postmodern criticism: now beauty stands for the sublime, say, indetermination, openness, freedom; it's a possibility, an emergent behavior, and cannot be used as the original seed (as method) without evident contradictions.

This is precisely what challenges emergent and generative art: maybe this new dimension of beauty could be found looking at emergent and generative processes with more concern.


4 Beauty and the sublime inside generative processes

First of all, we can safely say that formal coherence, order and beauty are the goals of every emergent and generative process; in fact, emergence does make sense only if, commencing with some chaotic initial configuration, generates some kind of harmony and form. This emergent order is taken into existence thanks to the parallel interaction of the elements of the actual process complex system, and this complexity, so difficult to understand and explain (due to its not lineal behavior), is considered a new kind of sublime.

It's like saying that every emergent process starts as sublime and ends up as beauty, but because beauty is an emergent result, it cannot be considered decorative or kitsch: its instances are always different and unpredictable and should be evaluated as a whole. At the same time, this order gains some epistemological value, because emergence and open systems do transform reality and matter, and here lies the importance of scientific knowledge and technology. Yet what is truly significant is the very process of emergence, the motion from sublime to beauty, from chaos to order, not its beautiful instances, even if they are necessary.

But this means that the sublime must be granted as a structure (or method) of the process; let's look at this statement closer, because there are some difficulties. To begin with, we should verify if the sublime really exists inside natural behaviors, then we should also verify if the sublime can be embedded inside artificial simulations, such as artificial life, genetic programming, etc.

What Kant said about this problem is that the sublime doesn't exist as a property of nature, albeit it can be found within natural phenomena. Besides, Kant also said that the sublime is not a property of art, because art is built upon human measure and order: it belongs to human taste, individual experience (Erlebnis), and his science and technology. Then, as Derrida pointed out [7], the sublime is to be found outside both nature and art, and its proper dimension is absence and incommensurability: what is out of limits needs the human presence, so that human beings are the gates that allow the sublime to enter the world.

Now, it makes sense to ask if the sublime can exist within scientific and technological processes: does not this seem to create a conflict between chaos, indetermination and the measurable and deterministic models of science and the numeric language of code? So we should also ask if artificial emergence is entitled to be considered as sublime, say, if technological sublime is a meaningful category.

In my opinion, in these cases it is not possible to speak of pure emergence (true auto poiesis), because this is an option that belongs only to living systems; artificial auto poiesis is just a simulation, it lacks autonomous purpose and can be triggered only by an external interference. What really happens is that we take our weakness of understanding of some complicated iterative result as true emergence. But a misunderstanding doesn't equal emergence, complicated is not the same as complex: a complicated process is a conglomerate of many simple recursive functions that overlap and interfere with each other, but everyone of them is deterministic and includes a pre designed order and beauty, that spreads inevitably along this "wannabe" emergence. So much is it that every artificial simulation must include some random function (that is, a trick) to induce chaos and, in this sense, the sublime.


4.1 Self organization and emergence

These problems have been recently addressed by Mitchell Whitelaw in his deep survey of A-Life art [8]. One of the topics examined in this work that seems relevant to me is self-organization, or the system capability to reach order and form by itself. Self-organization, certainly interesting and weird, is directly related with radical constructivism and with the idea that reality and knowledge are artificial and shaped by the self. But radical constructivism and auto poiesis do not delete reality. On the contrary, they rely heavily on it, even if with the filtering of personal interpretations. In fact, auto poietic systems are open systems, say, they interact with reality, with the outside.

So far, self-organization is of scarce interest to art because, even if we can demonstrate its existence, it delivers nothing to us because it is self referenced. Moreover, we have already seen that the goal is not the instance of emergence, but emergence itself. Since artificial emergence does not exist, what is interesting in A-Life or similar techniques, is their embedded scientific knowledge and technological know-how, because it could be shared with users.

But the relationship between science and art is not so clear and linear as many digital art statements claim it to be. Even if their boundaries seems to be fuzzy, as we have seen in chapter three, art and science are different and when they coexist, such as in simulations or generative processes, it seems to me that something is always lost: if we privilege method, it could be the sublime (emergence or indetermination); if we privilege the sublime we loose the possibility of order and form. Thus, if generative processes can't claim to be a melting pot of art and science, then we need, again, the human being (the user): the fusion of art and science truly happens when the user enters in the generative environment and starts a creative process that uses science through information interchange. Self-organization and scientific simulations are useful only when they communicate their embedded scientific knowledge.

What all this is trying to get into focus is that emergence (the sublime, beauty, science and creativity) is not a mysterious quality of some artificial process, but is a context, an environment. The flourishing of this environment is the true task of interaction.

Above all, the relevance of emergence artificial simulations is yet to be discussed: why do we need these simulations if emergence is actually stronger and deeper in the real world? Whitelaw correctly points out that behind A-Lifer's statements some kind of faith always exist, say, some individual meta-narrative that lays unquestioned and unshared under the process and acts in a way that is, finally closed and unreachable: here self organization stands for self reference and individualism, the same properties of the romantic aesthetics of genius.

But in such a form, artificial emergence or computational sublime grow up with the marks of too many unsolved contradictions, and develop nothing more than expressions of technological power, hi tech interfaces and special effects. In other words, this means that the sublime looses its true creative potential and its full philosophical capability, so that it is made impossible to use it as a foundation of emergent and interactive environments. These fake environments deserve to be negatively considered, as Baudrillard and Virilio among others have pointed out, as simulacra or techno art.


5 The interactive sublime

The inconsistency of artificial emergence doesn't necessarily mean that it can't be proficiently used, but it does make necessary the redefinition of beauty and the sublime foundations. We have seen that: a) beauty is the collection of the individual instances of emergence; b) beauty unfolds through chaos and indetermination; c) beauty, thanks to science and simulation, claims also for a new relationship with truth (even if this process is under deep discussion); d) this complex, free, emergent and open context is the sublime.

So beauty and sublime are part of an open, interactive, hypertextual artwork process; besides, the aesthetic of the open work of Umberto Eco [9] that figured out many statements of interactive and generative art, includes now, thanks to digital technology, an improved interdisciplinary and hypertextual framework. I want to stress again that we need interaction with human beings (artist, users, programmers and combinations of them) to allow the existence of sublime and beauty and scientific knowledge to communicate and gain epistemological value.

We have seen that the sublime and emergence present a difficult approach, because they are not a property but a context that must be carefully protected. This task is what makes the process interesting and much more significant than its results.

But if what is significant is the process itself, then beauty is not only found at its ends, but it needs to be installed inside it, for the simple reason that without beauty (both formal order and scientific evidence) the sublime remains incommensurable. Beauty is the contact point between the process and the sublime. Three questions arise: how is this possible if the sublime is opened and indeterminate? And, if we save this openness, doesn't this mean that beauty is dissolved into the sublime? And scientific evidence, if gives to beauty its truth and epistemological value, will not take away its openness and indetermination?

Well, beauty can take many forms: it will not be a formal beauty, but a kind of experience much more like the one we can find in performance arts like dance, theater, jam sessions, and playing games (as Gadamer had so deeply investigated) say, the pleasure and involvement of pure creativity, empathy and freedom.

5.1 Open beauty

Beauty could be defined as the inner order and design of the structures that allow the free gaming of generative interaction. Built up with form and knowledge and concocted with code and interfaces, this kind of beauty is a sort of architecture that shapes and organizes the space of the sublime but leaves it free and indeterminate. The metaphor of architecture (sublime) and decorative arts (beauty) is very well illustrated by Piranesi and aesthetically developed by Gadamer [1]:

"Architecture is simply and clearly the design of space. Space embraces everything that exists spatially… As art of space it is both art that shapes space and art that makes space."

This design, in our case, needs two elements: an hermeneutic process and a mayeutic process. Hermeneutics is needed because emergence is constitutively open, then every one of its statements or instances must be constantly discussed and verified (may be this could be the true function of method and science inside artistic processes). Mayeutics because the aesthetic goal is the ultimate freedom of the elements of the system and the free organization of the system itself, say, the maximum level of possibilities for every element of the system to be fully developed into individual order and beauty.

We find here, it seems to me, a new form of aura. Aura has been eliminated with much reason by Benjamin' technical reproductability, that deconstructed the romantic definition of the artist as genius and author, but now comes back by hermeneutic and mayeutic forms. With aura, the artist/author is also (even if it matches with the reader or the public) somehow recovered, because the hermeneutic and mayeutic framework needs a design to develop properly (if not, it will be only chaos and emergence will not arise). In fact, inside this architecture, it is possible to find a legitimate place both for the artist and the method, even if it seems that we choke against an hermeneutic self similarity (the hermeneutic circle), because beauty doesn't permit the full deconstruction of the author and science introduces, with scientific knowledge embedded into simulation, a deterministic order. 

But this problem can be solved if the process and its tools are always capable to sustain indetermination and freedom of interpretation: it is interaction and its smoothness that allows beauty and order to activate without weakening emergent freedom. It is not by chance that Gadamer [1], speaks of art as an environment that is wider and most important than the artist, the artwork or the public. Thus, inside generative processes, the modalities of interaction become of primary importance because the feedback with the human elements of a generative system is the factor that grants a truly emergent behavior, even if artificial emergence is constitutively limited.

So we need one more thing, that is, to study and verify how interaction develops using digital tools, because if human instances are the necessary condition for emergence to arise, there are mechanisms inside digital technologies that create serious obstacles to true interactive emergence. So let’s go back to the problem of knowledge that we have already approached before.


5.2 Interaction and knowledge

We have seen that software and interfaces procedures hide knowledge, and that this knowledge is shared with the user only in a limited performative way. But the ways by which knowledge is shared and communicated are of great importance for any interactive tool, especially in the case of generative and emergent techniques in art. Why? Because every emergent system is founded over the feedback between its elements and the environment, that is, information and knowledge interchange. Without feedback, the system can't evolve and a generative process becomes predictable and deterministic. In this case we speak of technological or the computational sublime as a kind of fake sublime or techno kitsch, precisely because knowledge is not shared between the participants of the emergent process. Software and interface do operate here in a violent form, and the old aesthetics comes back to take the place of freedom and indetermination. Moreover, what is lost is not just the sublime, but also beauty, because users do not have full access (knowledge is not shared) to its epistemological value. 


6 Searching for the total artwork

If emergent and generative capabilities are not enough without full knowledge communication and sharing, we have now to redefine the role that software and interface should play inside interactive processes. Considering what we have found before, digital tools should amplify their framework towards hermeneutic and mayeutic functions; let's see what this could possibly mean.

In the first place, code should become a true communication medium. This is a new dimension of software that overlaps with its performative functions: code is not only the engine of a generative and emergent process, but is also its information system, that creates a bridge between scientific know how, technology and the individuals that are interacting inside it. Code, software and interfaces should always allow the users to begin some kind of backward engineering of the technology in use.

This capability is, actually an hermeneutic process, because it's not just a form of open source software - sharing code between programmers- but a form that does involve end users or other artists without high computational skills. This means that code should evolve into some kind of readable text and that interfaces should be used as hermeneutic tools (not like visual metaphors, but much more like allegories) or disappear. It seems to me that in this way software and interfaces can become an essential part of a generative artwork, not only its computational engine.

In this sense, I'm against the idea of interfaces as a new form of art, because this is how interfaces reintroduce a closed framework, essentially anti generative: visual metaphors (icons, virtual reality, animations, robots…) install inside interactive applications old narratives of beauty, say, makeup and other forms of kitsch. Kitsch disturbs, that's the point, the aesthetic and hermeneutic freedom of users; as I see it, is the main problem of emergent and generative digital art.

What we have just discussed opens a very interesting field of experimentation: how to improve software with new procedures to integrate communication, media and tools and some hypothesis of a generative total artwork. Speaking of open beauty, we have found some kind of new aura. I hope to better explain this idea now. 

6.1 Irreproductability

The main quality of a full generative artwork is that it is not, essentially, possible to reproduce. It happens that we think the digital in the context of an improvement of Benjamin' aura theory, in the sense that digital technology introduces the perfect identity between the original artwork and its copies, so that the copy is exactly the same as the original. The aura of a digitalized artwork seems to disappear more radically than within technical reproductability. But, looking at digital media from the point of view of emergent and generative art, what defines the aura is that these processes are not reproducible, because emergence is a unique combination of elements that are always different, both during the process and in its individual instances. So the goal of these systems is to be always unique, always different, because they respect the freedom of their components. From the side of users, this is how mayeutics comes in.

So a true generative artwork is in the first place completely open, deeply interactive, hipertextual, trans and multimedia: open because emergence is indeterminate, interactive because this emergence needs feedback between users, media and tools; hipertextual because entering in the process means to move in and out its different stages and levels; inter and trans disciplinary, because the system uses aesthetic, scientific, historic and technological know how; finally, multi and trans media, because the generative environment is made with different type of languages and texts, say, generative techniques, code, interfaces, scientific simulations, art, and music.


7 Conclusions

All this is, obviously, not easy to concoct and deliver. There are technical difficulties, but, in my opinion, the most challenging problems are theoretical and methodological. The first of them is that work division and specialization reappears, in other words, strategies that heavily count on team work, were different individuals collaborate to develop a specialized part of the project. I like team work very much, but in this case what is lost is the interdisciplinary integration: every specialized individual keeps working on its own and conceptual complexity exists only as a metaphor in the final artwork. But because knowledge is not shared with users, this complexity doesn't truly come to life and becomes useless. As Morin said, "la tete bien faite" or complex thought must be triggered inside the individual, then, first of all, inside the artist (whatever he could be nowadays); this means that deep methodological and pedagogical changes are necessary.

The second problem is the lack of middle level developing tools that permit creative development sharing technology, algorithms and knowledge. This task is the most demanding, and deeply challenges anyone who seriously investigates (without listening to techno kitsch) the new media, because clear social, cultural and pedagogical goals must be established.



[1] Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Veritá e metodo. Milano, Bompiani, 2000.

[2] Bailey, James. After Thought – The Computer Challenge to Human Intelligence. New York, Basic Books, 1996.

[3] This is what is called, I think, disembodiment

[4] It could be easy to show that the most part of these ideas have ancient historic roots and that many aesthetic problems have been already challenged by Benjamin, Adorno, Hesse, Musil, Joyce, Borges, Italian Futurism, and by musicians like Stockhousen and Berio (see Eco "Opera aperta").

[5] Software has been compared with Austin' theory of performative speech acts.

[6] Sokal, Alan y Bricmont, Jean. Imposturas intelectuales, Barcelona, Piados, 1997. This is a polemical work that targets directly many claims of post estructuralism and the wishful thinkings of the new sciences of chaos and dynamic systems.

[7] Derrida, Jaques. La verdad en pintura. Buenos Aires, Paidós, 2001. In "La verité en peinture" Derrida discussed this problem very deeply. Speaking of the "parergon", Derrida said that the "parergon" takes different forms: makeup, frame, conceptuale framework. These aspects challenge beauty, sublime, art and the context in which they are embedded. The complex interferences between these elements is the problem of interfaces, useful and dangerous at the same time.

[8] Whitelaw, Mitchell. Meta creation. Art and Artificial Life.  Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2004.

[9] Eco, Umberto. Opera aperta. Milano, Bompiani, 2000.

[10] Heidegger, Martin. L'arte e lo spazio. Introduzione di Gianni Vattimo. Genova, il nuovo melagolo, 2000.

[11] Kant, Immanuel. Lo bello y lo sublime. Metafísica de las costumbres. Buenos Aires, Libertador, 2004.

[12] Johnson, Steven. Emergence – The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software.  New York, Scribner, 2001.

[13] Johnson, Steven. Interface Culture – How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. New York, Basic Books, 1997.

[14] Vattimo, Gianni. La fine della modernitá. Milano, Garzanti, 1985.

[15] Virilio, Paul. La bomba informatica. Milano, Raffaello Cortina Editore, 2000.

[16] Wilson, Stephen. Information Arts – Intersections of Art, Science and Technology. Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2002.