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The challenge of Generative Art: the Space of Aesthetic Spaces

"Man kann soweit gehen, große Teile des ästhetischen Produktionsprozesses unter dem Anzahlaspekt zu betrachten: Künstler wechseln den ästhetischen Raum, wenn eine genügend große Anzahl von Objekten darin realisiert worden ist - vom Künstler selbst oder von anderen; wenn sie herausfinden, daß ein solcher Raum schon besetzt ist; Künstler suchen sich "große", "offene" Räume. Die Definition der ästhetischen Räume selbst ist natürlich das eigentliche Problem. Die zwei extremfälle sind der Raum aller überhaupt möglicher Bilder, der alle anderen ästhetischen Räume enthält, sowie die durch jedes einzelne realisierte Bild definierten Räume, die keinen anderen Raum enthalten."

Frieder Nake: Ästhetik als Informationsverarbeitung. Vienna/New York: Springer Verlag, 1974, p. 104.

Nake proposes to analyse artistic styles as "aesthetic spaces": sets of possible pieces. Individual artworks evoke the spaces they inhabit, and become superfluous once these spaces have become sufficiently well-established. Art history is thus a trajectory through the set of all possible "aesthetic spaces".

Generative Art implements explicit mathematical definitions of Nake's aesthetic spaces. It thus may speed up the art-historical process: every program is a style, rather than an individual piece.

Nake's set of all aesthetic spaces has the structure of a semi-lattice. At the bottom of this directed graph are all individual art pieces; the graph has a unique root which is the aesthetic space encompassing all other aesthetic spaces.

Most generative art has implemented very constrained aesthetic spaces: slight generalizations of individual artworks, with less variety than a short period from the oeuvre of a mediocre formalist artist. The speed-up of art history is not realized in this way; this branch of generative art is therefore rightly ignored by the museum scene.

Nake's formulation, however, immediately suggests a much more interesting challenge: to articulate the semi-lattice of all aesthetic spaces, i.e., the definition of an all-encompassing "style to end all styles", which subsumes all (and only all) styles and substyles down to the level of individual pieces. To actually do this, is a research project which will take at least several decades. At the Institute of Artificial Art Amsterdam the project "Artificial" is a first attempt in this direction.

It is not obvious that the semi-lattice of all possible aesthetic spaces has one objectively valid structure. It may turn out that its definition involves many decisions which manifest the personal commitments of its designers. Though the project starts out in a completely scientific spirit, it may thus end up being an "art project" in a traditional sense, with subjective, expressive components. The step is nonetheless worth taking, because the project will certainly be able to transcend the arbitrary and idiosyncratic nature of current art.


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Huge Harry: "On the Role of Machines and Human Persons in the Art of the Future." Pose 8 (September 1992), pp. 30-35.
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