Lecture by Professor Nick Montfort from MIT

Starting Art & Inquiry from Code: Growing a Project Computationally

2018.03.01 | Winnie Soon

Title: Starting Art & Inquiry from Code:Growing a Project Computationally

Time: 22 Mar 2018 (Thur), 1500-1700
Venue: Building 5008-138


One of the problems that is acute in the digital humanities but also noticeable in many art projects is that a detailed proposal is often developed and delivered before any significant *computational* exploration of the topic has been done. A plan of this sort might be needed for a grant application, for instance, in which the deliverables and outcomes need to be named. Essentially, the conclusion has to be written before the artist/investigator, or before a group of collaborators, has even started to think about the problem using computation. In framing this issue, while of course I acknowledge that art and the humanities have different approaches and purposes, I consider both of them to be types of inquiry, ways to ask questions about matters ranging from perception to material culture to philosophical concepts. I argue that today’s frequently-taken approach, proposing the development of a tool or an artwork that is described in detail, is usually flawed. Instead, it makes sense to begin computational inquiry by using general-purpose programming to explore questions of interest and to feel one’s way around the relevant data and computation. This is done in creative computing classes; it is what expert individuals who have all the requisite skills often do to develop projects that do not require grant funding; and it is also a good approach when people need to collaborate on a project and some bring technical background, some experience in artistic practice or humanistic methodologies, and some various types of subject-matter or domain expertise.


Nick Montfort studies creative computing and develops computational art and poetry. His computer-generated books of poetry include #!, the collaboration 2×6, Autopia, and The Truelist. Among his more than fifty digital projects are The Deletionist and Sea and Spar Between, both collaborations. His MIT Press books, collaborative and individual, are: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, and Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities, and The Future. He is professor of digital media at MIT and lives in New York and Boston.  More info: http://nickm.com/


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