[Humanist] 24.102 vending machine to experimental device

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jun 12 08:25:46 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 102.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2010 13:11:14 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: from vending machine to experimental device

In "Connections: A Personal History of Computer Art Making from 1971 to
1981", in White Heat Cold Logic (2008), Stephen A. R. Scrivener recounts
the progress of his work in these epistemic terms:

> I had replaced one method of knowing -- observation, through painting
> -- by another -- experimentation -- which, as I saw it, freed my
> thinking from the tacit operation of preferences acquired through
> familiarity with the history of painting.... Ultimately, I abdicated
> from the responsibility of conveying the known by providing the
> viewer with an experimental method of knowing. (p. 303)

At base the difference he points to is the difference between received
knowledge (albeit assimilated, rearranged, weighted etc) and knowing
directly. But, as an artist, he is talking not just about what went on
in his head but what he made. Reading these words it is not difficult to
see why an artist would be attracted to computing in those years. 

But as in other claims of difference, it is worth asking what exactly that
difference is. When I look at a painting what is happening? Am I *receiving*
the known as conveyed by the painter? Or am I -- presuming I have, as we
say, my eyes OPEN -- engaged in "an experimental method of knowing" as my
eyes travel over the painting and my brain does whatever it does, drawing on
kinaesthetic memory and so on and so forth? If the work of art happens to be
a machine that I can physically affect, there is obviously a difference, but
what is that difference?

I suppose the historian would say, the interesting thing here in Scrivener's
account is that he believes thus and such, that he was part of a group of
artists, engineers et al. who worked in this way and believed thus and such.
And believing as they did, they went on to do things they would otherwise
not have done.

Are we in the same boat?


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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