Computational Media in Context of Contemporary Art

Before I answer the question whether computational media is important, we need to look at what “computational media” is. When you type in “computational media definition” to Google search, you can find a link to an ITP course called Introduction to Computational Media that defines what computational media is in their first week of classes. The professor of this class tries to break the word down into “computation” and “media”. Wikipedia defines computation as “finding a solution to a problem from given inputs by means of an algorithm” and media as “plural form of medium” and “a truncation of the term media of communication, referring to those organized means of dissemination of fact, opinion, entertainment and other information.” By definition, computational media doesn’t necessarily need to involve computers, as long as you derive a result using some sort of predefined steps of action from a given set of input. To me, computational media seems very much like what generative art is. Generative art refers to “art that in whole or in part has been created with the use of an autonomous system” which is generally “one that is non-human and can independently determine features of an artwork that would otherwise require decisions made directly by the artist”.


One of the most famous artists known for generative art is probably Sol Lewitt. The autonomous systems in his artworks are created by the set of instructions that he gives for each of his generative artworks which would theoretically allow the readers to recreate his works. I used the word “theoretically” because a lot of Sol Lewitt’s works are instruction based and there is no record of the artworks actually being created by the artist himself. Additionally, for some pieces, there is room for the instruction of one specific artwork to render different possibilities depending on how an individual interprets it. The essential look and feel of the rendered outcome based on Lewitt’s instructions will be the same, but it may not be exactly same down to the finest detail.


Most contemporary artworks that can be categorized as computational media usually involve the use of computers. The artist will usually write a program, for example using Processing, that looks for certain inputs that the program uses to create the resulting artwork. The concept of computer programs being used for something other than a functional purpose is still foreign to the general public and it is hard to think of a computer program to be an artwork. However, artists have always challenged the boundaries of what can be constituted as art, most notably in the modern art history by Marcel Duchamp. In 1917, Duchamp submitted a work called Fountain as his entry for the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, which was essentially a urinal on a pedestal. The piece since then has been used repeatedly as an example of how modern artists have expanded the definition of what should be accepted as an artwork.

Computational media is important in the context of contemporary art because it parallels Duchamp’s intent of trying to expand out the definition of art. Computational media challenges the general view that people have of what art might look like. I think it is important for artists to keep pushing on the boundaries of what art can be. Creatively can arise from anywhere and art should not be confined to something that can be hung on a white wall in a gallery. Computational media is also important in the way that it is a way that an individual can express their creatively using a set of non-conventional artistic skills. Creating computational art does not have to involve the ability to handle a paint brush well or the ability to use wood working tools. Writing code is becoming more conventional and there are many readily available sources for an individual to start learning how to code, and computation media allows a way that individuals without traditional art training can make art.



Leave a Reply