By Sheep T. Iconoclast, 16 October 2008

There is a thin line between religion and computing. For some reason the image of Hindus feeding their statues milk has occurred within the same month as even more believers spent more time painfully attempting to install windows 95 on their PCs. Scanning newsnet pages on PC's, Macs [comp.sys.mac], workstations tend to bring up the kind of fanatical savagery you would expect to be more common in an ethnic war. A.C. Clark - the guy who wrote 2001 and invented satellite communications, then blasted the whole thing by doing a weirdness program for the Discovery Channel - once made the statement that advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic. He does have a point, computers are becoming a new modern voodoo. I once noticed a student who regularly changed the colour of the screen's background before using Photoshop, then changed it back afterwards. She explained, that she had discovered that if she did this Photoshop wouldn't crash. The pixies are exchanged for pixels.

It is not surprising to discover that computer based art is undergoing a curious conflict. I don't get to name drop much, so suffer me this once; I was on the interview panel for the post of head of computing for a well known London based school of art. The applicants fell into two camps. The true-grit programmers and 'computer artists of the next generation'. Like most religions they are both right. Naturally I'm not going to tell you the truth; this is a deliberate attempt to polarise the debate for the sake of dramatic effect, sorry encourage responsible debate.

CODE by Sheep T. Iconoclast

<H2> Sellotaping ourselves to the <b >true -grit-programmers </b > first. </H2> The <b>true-grit-programmers</b> began in the 70's with the original displays, programs in <code>FORTRAN<code> being submitted on cards to the local mainframes. Here they found a completely new way of exploring art, creating forms and functions which would be impossible in 'manual' art. It was a natural medium for those interested in methodological art, or for those who wanted to explore an idea by removing themselves from the loop (i.e. removing all historical and cultural bias).

They didn't want the students to be <blink Amited</b link> running around picking up the leftovers dropped from the table of corporate software development. If you can program you are no longer limited to the imagination of what others can do, computers are truly general purpose machines and the only way of accessing this power completely is via programming. To create truly original pieces of work implies some crazy transgression of <i> 'norms'</i> which prewritten software constricts worse than Victorian undergarments. With prewritten software it is quickly possible to reach the limits of what the application can do for you, simply because the software was not designed with you in mind.

If you cannot program, the best thing to do is to find someone who can explain your ideas and start applying for funding to pay for it (like William Latham did). This is not really different from Jeff Koons using lots of Italian craftsmen to construct his work, or using a technical advisor to help make an installation. However writing a proposal which describes in sufficient detail what the software will do is almost as complex as writing the software. What becomes the issue here is the language the 'software' is written in. One is the foreign alien unreadable language like C, the other is the foreign alien unreadable language people reserve to write application proposals in.

The true-grit-programmers are mostly taller and older than the next-generation as well.

Now, performing the Vulcan mind transfer with the next-generation, we discover that many come from a fine art printing background. They are the first generation who grew up with access to general' computing. Off-the-shelf, shrink-wrapped, back-of-the-lorry packages like Photohop, FreeSand, QuarkExcess, MangleMind Director became available and permitted experimentation. They began by using software to help complete other work, this reduces the separation between computers and everyday art activity. Well designed software does not take long to introduce, in a teaching setting it is possible to bring students to see what is possible, without a huge time investment by both student and teacher. By lowering the barrier to the use of computers, more students get access to the utility of computing. This helps to hit and run the myth of computers as logical and nothing to do with creative activity. The use of standard software makes links with hardware like printers and video output possible (or in the case of Windows 95 theoretically feasible). So called hard copy aka prints and videos, helps to bring electronical further into the process of general studio activity and pushes it out of an isolated space. Programming to the new generation is putting some lines of lingo in Director like 'go to next mark', anything else is for enthusiasts or post graduate activity. The possibilities of what current applications can do is so overwhelming that the idea of learning a new language is as appealing as learning Italian - I would be nice to get around to doing this but I haven't got the time.

Certain schools of art and design are strong believers in not teaching programming. Even activities like Lingo or Hypercard scripting are frowned upon. Students stay up late at night furtively Macroing languages too tend to be stuck on at the end of the software construction process and hence tend to get the script writer running in strange hoops around the limitations of the application.

The primary reason used by the next-generation for off-the-shelfism is the focus on art of ideas, curiously the <b>true-grit-programmers</b> believe coding will have the upper hand <b> for precisely the same reason </b> . If this ever gets resolved someone email me.