Dietrich: The Computer: A Tool for Thought-Experiments

Interesting article (1987) by Frank Dietrich ‘The Computer: A Tool for Thought-Experiments’

The article is heavy with some very interesting theory (notions such as dematerialization of artworks, computer simulations and the relationships between art, human mind and machines), but also contains some case studies of creative work with machines (including the work of Woody Vasulka, Hubert Hohn and Harold Cohen).

Dietrich explores some really fascinating concepts surrounding the physicality of artworks, and a computer program’s place within this physicality. He writes

“The computer’s potential for symbol processing causes a significant reversal from the physical to the mental and vice versa by visualizing the structural state of the symbols. The act of transposing the internals of the machine into the sensual domain of humans is called, in today’s jargon, simulation.” (1987, p.316)

He also talks about the potential autonomy of machines and their capability of making art independent of human intervention (including an interesting discussion of human superiority in competition with the machine, with reference to Moholy-Nagy’s ideas around the genesis of an artwork). This leads onto the work of Harold Cohen and his development of AARON; a computer program combined with a drawing device, which automatically produces variations of line drawings. Dietrich writes

“AARON is proof that it is possible to embody a painter’s skills in rules within a computer program, to formalize and materialize in a programming language the artist’s image-making consciousness, and then to leave it up to the computer that executes this program to do the actual material work and draw the image.” (p.324)

Cohen is particularly relevant to us as he studied painting at the Slade in the 60s. He also taught there, before moving to San Diego in ’68 where, at UCSD, his work on computer programming and art began to transpire. He has written a number of papers on the subject and it is quite possible Chris Crabtree is familiar with his work, since Crabtree came to Slade just a couple of years after Cohen.

Here’s an interesting link with a bit of info on Cohen’s thinking behind AARON :


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