Art, Computers, and Mammon - February 14, 2015
This essay is about the influence of Mammon on Art and Computers, and the subsequent influence of computers on Art. Why we should not be overly concerned about how art and artists use computers and how we should be concerned about the influence of Mammon on Art and Computers.
First we need some simple definitions, something everyone can comprehend and not wrapped in the mystery and fluff that often accompanies such descriptions:
Art – The arts are represented by numerous activities, I will confine the discussion to painting, sculpture, music and poetry. Of course some writing is art as well, and that writing that qualifies I include under poetry, the rest is jibber jabber. These activities are an outlet of creative expression, and are considered Art, at least when they meet aesthetic considerations. Those that work to produce art do so with specific attitudes in mind and follow some of the writings of Tolstoy, particularly when they follow the idea that they are narratives that tell stories. Other works follow closely the interpretations outlined by Emmanuel Kant, and yet others follow Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and his interpretations. In my opinion, to date, Kant and Hegel have the better resolutions.
Computers – An electronic machine (modern computers only) that is used for the following tasks:
Data can consist of anything, words, images, numbers, the list is endless. Notice that nowhere is a computer described as a sentient being. This is because it is not sentient. Pull the plug and the computer shuts down and does nothing, nor can it do anything to rectify that situation, it has no life of its own. A computer responds to commands issued to it by a human, and while such commands can set off large chains of commands through many computers the command must be initiated by a human. It makes no difference if the command is automated by a script or application, the script and application are human initiatives.
Mammon – Mammon is a particular pejorative that has it's origin in Biblical verse. Mathew 6:24 and Luke 16:13. It is used there to describe gluttony and unjust worldly gain in Biblical verse, personified as a God albeit a false God. The term is also used to describe excessive materialism, greed, etc as a negative. As a word it has roots in Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, Chaldean and Syriac. Translated it simply means, money, wealth and material possession. Emotionally it is wealth regarded as an evil influence. One can find some argument about the words origins and meanings, but in 'Mid Atlantic' parlance it means the pejorative description found in Biblical verse. This essay is not about religion or belief but is about the results of a description of activity perfectly outlined by “Mammon.”
Let us start by examining some of the claims and fears that many in the arts have about computers involvement in the arts. In the first instance computers merely obey commands given them by humans. If computers make 'art' it is only because they have been directed to do so by a human. Even if like ARRON they make original art from a simple text description without actual further input from the artist that is because the artist has done the following: The artist has provided the computer with a database of artifacts from which it can pull the necessary components to draw 'a boy;' the artist has also provided some algorithms that define how the drawing will proceed, which may have some randomized components so that each time it draws 'a boy' it draws it differently; and each time it draws 'a boy' it stores that information in it's database. An imitation of human activity, but not a replica.
Then there are innumerable persons that use commercial applications called 'paint programs' to produce original works. The jury is still out concerning which ones are going to be validated as art, but that will come.
The jury I refer to is time.
Because of the sophistication of computer programs written by artists for their own purposes it would be difficult to state anything about their sentience, but suffice it to say that if sentience were already in place we would know about it, the world of computers and computer technology changes at a fantastic pace. So no sentience to date. Computer programs are now able to produce any kind of art style you may wish, from cave painting to abstract art. Moreover it can imitate specific artists. It is even claimed that it can fool experts, though I hardly think so in painting and sculpture, it may be possible though. Through various new applications for architects, such as Autodesk Revit, which can not only display architectural drawings in 3D photo-realism, but can also incorporate real time motion to create illusions that are otherwise impossible. Music industry artists are in jeopardy because music can be analyzed to the point that duplication, whether by intent or creative insight, can be detected and prosecution enabled based on that. The idea that all the music that can ever be written has already been written, and computers that write music do so simply by creating all the possible permutations.
But do they?
Being human and creative is more than permutations, more than analyzed data. Being human is seeing into that part of aesthetics that we call spiritual/metaphysical and bringing to life something much more special than random permutations generated by a computer. Where art and computers conjoin is at the hands of an artist, not a technician who creates algorithms to generate endless permutations of a particular kind. Although even permutations have their place at times in art made by humans. The computer is just another tool, or is it?
Mammon wants to seize art and Art and own it, and by the same token Mammon wants to seize computers and own them. And to a large degree it has already done that. Once the world, or at least our part of it, is completely under the control of computers which are completely under the control of corporate entities we will lose our ability to go where we want, because our cars will simply not drive us there. Our building will not let us in or out, our jobs, if we still have them, will dictate our week. Our families will be constructed elsewhere and we may never know them, but still be held financially responsible. Our money will be spent for us, leaving us little to do with what is left, and our choices will be made for us based on computer algorithms.
These kinds of things are not the result of having computers, these kinds of things are the result of allowing Mammon to flourish in every aspect of our lives. Now you can understand clearly the implication of art and computers, of false art, created to look exactly like the real thing and the ability of the corporation to market whatever they want, and require you to buy it. Mammon, not the religious Mammon, but the real Mammon of corporate 'Mid-Atlantic' regions.
Perhaps you may read this and think, “Oh, this guy is paranoid,” or “Oh, this guy hates corporations,” and you would be right. But it is only because I see very clearly the trends in our 'Mid Atlantic' societies that are prevailing. Where corporations command the attention of governments and the electorate can't get a word in edgewise. Where every day government gives up administrative duties to corporations. Where corporations get policing rights on issues that are socially sensitive, such as TPP, where if you do something as a municipality to curb corporate activities that are harming your community you can be summarily charged with a crime against a corporation, and such judgements that may be passed are not ratified by civilian courts or government legislature but by corporate courts. There is no recourse to challenge any decisions made by such courts because they are a law unto themselves, no government can withstand these new issues that are about to land in our lives. These are places to fear computers and Mammon.
The arts will survive in spite of efforts to the contrary, the arts may take a step back from full frontal corporate sponsorship, the arts may become subversive or underground, but they will survive. The real question now is how will humanity survive?
Consider this curiosity concerning our world. We produce enough food to feed every man, woman, and child on this planet, yet men, women, and children starve to death. One has to ask 'why is that?' One may also ask, 'how did I fail?' Well you didn't fail, we have been co-opted by Mammon, and Mammon is corporate greed, corporate greed finds it necessary to maintain profits, but not just profits, high profits. So people are dispossessed by corporate greed, and national greed, and can no longer feed themselves because they have been turned off land, their arts and cultures have been crushed because that is how you finalize a people, erase their memories of the things that helped them feed themselves and have good governance. Replacement is endemic, self sufficiency is replaced with food programs, which increase their reliance on corporately manufactured goods. Good for business, bad for the hungry. Even the old saw, “teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life,” no longer works because corporate greed has taken possession of even the things that the planet gives freely.
Corporations are the new empires. The USA has been an empire builder since before WWII, but have never admitted to that fact, the USA is a corporate entity. The attitudes in the marketplace for all things, including art, is about building new empires based on some false premises concerning art. You can buy in, or you can opt out. Opting out may have financial consequences, opting in will make you the same as, and in support of, corporate empire builders and the corruption and inhumanity that comes from that. But as of now you still have a choice, later you may not do it so easily.
Art is safe because people make images that impact the mind, however corporations are not ignorant of this ability of art to impact the mind, we are facing a duality in art production in the future, a duality that will profoundly change our world if Mammon continues to flourish.