>>Software as an Art Medium


Webster's defines software as "the entire set of programs, procedures, and related documentation associated with a system and especially a computer."1 Mathematician Countess Ada Lovelace worked in collaboration with inventor Charles Babbagge on plans for imaginary machines in the late 19th century.2 She is attributed as the primary originator of software, or a codified set of instructions intended for a machine to execute. Approaching software as an artistic medium is a more recent development. In the 1960's Harold Cohen created a computerized "drawing machine" named "Aaron" which was lauded in the press as a threat to human creativity. Nowadays art and design software like PhotoShop and Illustrator are common "collaborators" in artistic creation. Still some question who the "real" artist is; the software itself, the programmer who wrote the software, or the designer/artist who manipulates the software. Perhaps the relationship can be viewed as a symbiotic collaborative process that bypasses "modernist" concerns about individual (human) artistic originality. The "Art as Software" exhibit curated by art critic Jack Burnahm at the Jewish Museum in New York in the 1960's is another early example of artists writing "software as art."

Temporal, non-visual, anti-object art movements like Performance Art, Happenings, Mail Art, Conceptual Art, and Video Art can be viewed as precursors to "software as art." These more "ephemeral" art forms emphasized process over end result, experience over art object, audience member over artist, interactive participation over passive reception, humor over aura.3 Christine Tamblyn and Lynn Hershman are two American artists who shifted in the 1980's and early 1990's from creating feminist performance art to developing CD-ROM's and interactive multimedia pieces that dealt with similar feminist concerns in an interactive multimedia context. Some artists, even while continuing their own artistic practice, have made important contributions to commercial software. For example, Canadian Thecla Schiphorst's worked on the 3-D Animation software "LifeForms", Canadian Char Davies wrote code for the 3-D Modeling and Animation software "SoftImage," and American Michael Neimark's has contributed to the Silicon Valley Corporation "Interval." The Silicon Valley Start-up C5 is a corporation composed entirely of artists who aim to provide consulting services and produce competitive software. Many artists who are affiliated with the less commercial, more European "net.art" field are creating art software as well, such as Danish Anti-Orp's sound editing software, London-based Mongrel's anti-racist rendition of PhotoShop, "National Heritage" and American Sawad Brooks' art software creations.


1. http://www.m-w.com/
2. Sadie Plant, Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture, New York: Doubleday, 1997.
3. Walter Benjamin, "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"