the performing arts, then, for some new-media artists, the answer may be yes. They take information technologies for granted, but their art is not fixated on the computer as a medium, as if it were paint or a violin, or even the sound artist’s turntables or the scenic artist’s optical instruments. As Stephen Wilson’s recent encyclopedic compendium of contemporary intersections between art, science, and technology shows, the information arts range across the life and space sciences, nanotechnology, robotics, and other new materials, as well as IT itself.2 This style of practice does not use technology to create new artworks so much as it uses artistic practice to manage and interpret information at the cusp of technological and scientific research.

This new kind of art and design practice looks increasingly like technical research, but it is done from an artistic or design rather than a scientific perspective—it asks different kinds of questions and uses different kinds of methods to search for answers. Generally speaking, technical research focuses almost exclusively on new technical possibilities: What new things can be done? How can they be done faster or more efficiently? By contrast, artistic and design work tends to focus on the social and cultural meaning of the technology that is under development. This aspect differentiates the approach from that of conventional CS, which does not tend to address explicitly such implications of decisions about system design and implementation, and which may look askance at approaches that have a social science flavor. While a traditional work of art can be thought of as a representation of an artistic concept, the information arts often ask what technologies themselves (perhaps unintentionally) express and how they ought to be reconceived.3

Artists’ questioning can be a powerful, constructive force. In particular, since the mid-19th century artists have often personified the “user to come” for new cultural technologies. Many media technological advances have arisen in the arts and design fields or have been modeled there, a decade or a generation ahead of the industrial-academic curve; see Box 4.1. For Alvy Ray Smith, the prominent computer graphics expert, artists are most valuable as “explorers at the edge of our culture,” and he looks to them to “tell the rest of us what [computation] really is.”4 Thus, the information artist functions as an archetypal knowledge worker: someone able to “penetrate conventional organizations to which their continuing attachment to an ‘external’ knowledge community represents a valuable asset.”5 ITCP

2  

See Stephen Wilson, 2001, Information Arts, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. Also see links to online resources at <http://online.sfsu.edu/~infoarts/links/wilson.artlinks2.html>.

3  

The CAT’s MeAoW lecture series at New York University, for example, was framed around such questions; see Box 6.1 for details.

4  

Alvy Ray Smith, 1998, “The Stuff of Dreams (25 Years = 100,000x),” Computer Graphics World 21(7): 27-29.

5  

See Paul A. David and Dominique Foray. 2002. “An Introduction to the Economy of the Knowledge Society,” International Social Science Journal (UNESCO 171) 54:25-37.



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