Christopher Fahey [askrom] on Thu, 25 Apr 2002 18:45:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] RE: <nettime> un-plugged-in digest [sawad, fahey, napier]

> Flash remains essentially "media," as you define it, much 
> as Quicktime. I don't think that scripting separates it from 
> being so. 
> I also think that many non-artist programmers would resist 
> referring to Flash as a programming language. Well, they 
> would giggle. Programmers tend to think of C/C++, Fortran,
> Basic, Java as their materials. 

Any programmer who giggles at the idea of Flash as a programming
language is uninformed. Your comparison of Flash to Quicktime is
ridiculously uninformed.

ActionScript is a robust, object-oriented, ECMA-262-compliant
programming language, roughly identical in syntax, structure, and
sophistication to JavaScript. I'm not saying that JavaScript is the most
powerful language in the world, but you cannot deny that it IS a
programming language.

This is what Flash is: Flash is a multi-platform run-time environment
that executes ActionScript code. It allows ActionScript to manipulate
multimedia elements. The multimedia elements can be vector graphics,
bitmapped graphics, sound, and animations/videos. The manipulations are
done by treating the multimedia elements as objects.

What makes Flash different from, say, JRE? It's easier to use, it is
easier to manage the inclusion of media elements, it's nearly
ubiquitous, and, well, it's slower and less powerful code-wise. 

What makes Flash different from, say, JavaScript? It's all in the GUI:
Where JavaScript is designed for manipulating HTML objects in a web
browser environment, ActionScript is designed for manipulating Flash
multimedia elements in the Flash Player environment. And the Flash
Player is *way* more powerful than any web browser in terms of
presenting and manipulating user interface elements and multimedia.

Anyway, it sounds like the last time you (and many others in the snobby
"Flash is not real programming!" camp) looked at Flash was in 1999. Take
another look. As I said to someone else recently, multimedia is only
about 5% of what Flash is. Check out this site to learn about how
ActionScript is a 'real' programming language:


[christopher eli fahey]

> Furthermore, this issue of liberation through programming 
> seems somewhat 
> more Romantic than it needs to be. One of the linguistic issues which 
> programming languages have made so apparent is the citational 
> dimension of 
> all languages, be they social, mathematical, or programmatic. 
> "A software 
> artist re-uses the language of modernist abstraction and design ­
> lines and geometric shapes ...." Similarly, programmers very 
> often learn to 
> program by copying and modifying other programs and, on a 
> more abstract 
> level, algorithms. (Beth Stryker and I delivered a paper 
> earlier this year 
> at CAA in Philadelphia which sketched out some relations between 
> programming algorithms and notions of space and 
> representation in general.) 
> Advanced programmers use these same techniques. They also 
> utilize software 
> libraries (talked about earlier in the case of Quicktime) 
> which contain 
> code which can be referenced ("called") from within one's 
> (own) code. In 
> other words, programmers are always already indebted to other 
> programmers. 
> The whole GNU project depends on this structure of debt. I 
> don't disagree 
> that there is an element of liberation to be studied here, 
> but it is not a 
> simple one, and certainly not one that is merely oppositional.
> While it is true that Flash currently is implemented upon a 
> vector-based 
> set of routines, your use of its attributes to characterize 
> all software 
> art is simply synecdoche.
> "A software artist re-uses the language of modernist 
> abstraction and design ­
> lines and geometric shapes, mathematically generated curves 
> and outlined
> color fields ­ to get away from figuration in general, and 
> cinematographic
> language of commercial media in particular. Instead of 
> photographs and clips
> of films and TV, we get lines and abstract compositions. In 
> short, instead
> of QuickTime, we use Flash."
> There is no reason that software art cannon use/create 
> "images" in the 
> narrowly defined sense of "pictures," or any other form we 
> identify from 
> our experiences with so-called old-media. Through software 
> one can create 
> images or effect any number of sensuous phenomena. Your 
> position vis-a-vis 
> the "modernism" effected by the Flash protocol, which is designed to 
> deliver compressed animation over relatively narrow bandwidth 
> seems to me 
> mistakes technological limitations for an iconoclastic morality.
> Sawad
> >To return to the topic of new modernism. Of course we don't 
> want to simply
> >replay Mondrian and Klee on computer screens. The task of 
> the new generation
> >is to integrate the two paradigms of the twentieth century: 
> (1) belief in
> >science and rationality, emphasis on efficiency, basic 
> forms, idealism and
> >heroic spirit of modernism; (2) skepticism, interest in 
> ³marginality² and
> >³complexity,² deconstructive strategies, baroque opaqueness 
> and excess of
> >post-modernism (1960s-). At this point all the features of the second
> >paradigm became tired clichés. Therefore a return to 
> modernism is not a bad
> >first step, as long as it is just a first step towards 
> developing the new
> >aesthetics for the new age.
> >
> >PART 3B will be posted shortly.]
> - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
> From: "Christopher Fahey [askrom]" <>
> Date: Wed, 24 Apr 2002 17:36:00 -0400
>   I agree with Eryk that NN/m9ndfukc/nato epitomizes the "software
> artist" to a certain extent, but there are several mitigating 
> factors I
> would like to add to this discussion:
>   FIRST, programming is hard work! The 
> "individual-artist-genius" model
> of art criticism is hard to apply to Manovich's vision of this new
> "software artist" creature simply because programming is commonly done
> by more than one person. While individual artists like Praystation or
> Golan Levin may often work individually, we are increasingly seeing
> software artwork produced collaboratively. Multi-artist collaborations
> (like Alex Galloway's Carnivore collaborations) and murky artist
> collectives (the excellent c404) are able to produce works 
> greater than
> the sum of their parts - also, they can frequently achieve 
> greater name
> recognition as a group than as one person. It is widely believed that
> NN/m9ndfukc/nato may be at least five different people, any 
> one of whom
> might have a hard time achieving that kind of notoriety by themselves.
> The amount of labor and specialized skill it takes to produce certain
> kinds of software artworks is comparable to the labor in making a film
> or a building. And like with films, it is often impossible to 
> attribute
> the artistic vision of a single person to the final digital product. 
>   This "collaborative model" borders on a kind of "corporate 
> model". Jon
> Ippolito recently advocated that digital artists should give up on
> making money as artists and keep their "day jobs". I would extend that
> idea even further to say that the production of software art is so
> similar to the production of commercial digital products that the two
> modes benefit from close proximity. It is not uncommon to find that
> digital artists have day jobs working for digital companies, 
> or to find
> artists who actually OWN or are principals of a commercial enterprise
> closely linked to their artistic production (examples include
>, and even my own comparatively staid
> Increasingly we are seeing artists who
> do not hide their day jobs from the art world, who are not embarrassed
> by their day jobs - and these artists tend to be digital artists.
>   This is not to say that I exactly buy into the McElroy model of
> marketing artwork as a corporate product (to me his position 
> often reads
> like a parody of the artist's aversion to corporate 
> thinking), but I do
> agree that the separation of art and commerce is unnecessarily
> artificial and does not lend itself well to the production of software
> artworks of any level of complexity above D.I.Y. 
>   I do not think that complexity=quality, but I do know that many
> artists (like myself) have dreams and visions of building 
> artworks that
> are simply beyond the ability of a single person to realistically
> complete. While this has always been true for many art
> practices(fabricators and artists assistants are common even 
> among plain
> ol' oil painters), it is particularly true for digital artists who
> cannot specialize in every digital production tool in the 
> world. Someday
> we may have digital artists with their own (paid) programming 
> staffs in
> much the same way a Nam June Paik likely has a nice little staff of
> fabricators and video technicians. 
>   This also ties quite closely with Ippolito's advocating that artists
> employ the General Public License method of copyright/patent-free
> production. The GPL itself was born out of the idea that building
> software products *requires* large teams of people: If a large team of
> developers is producing something just for fun, then they at 
> least need
> some assurance that one of the members of the team won't just take the
> whole product and sell it as their own. The GPL allows 
> development teams
> to form without worrying about who is the real "owner". And online
> source control systems like CVS provide the infrastructure for
> developers to work as close-knit virtual teams without 
> stepping on each
> other's toes and without corporate management.
>   While I find the collaborative model more politically 
> interesting than
> the 
> "single-auteur-genius-with-a-staff-of-technical-assistants" model, I
> would also give my left arm to have five hotshit programmers 
> working for
> me building my most elaborate ideas. 
>   SECOND, I think that "software artwork" needs to be subdivided
> somewhat. I think the net/not-net debate is less important than the
> interactive/non-interactive debate. We are living in a moment where we
> see an increasing number of artist-programmers whose work manifests as
> either "Autonomous Algorithm" or "Interactive Experience". 
>   "Autonomous Algorithm" describes a work that is entirely
> self-contained, where the software is executed and it does its thing
> regardless of what any human audience does to or with it. 
> This category
> includes a wide variety of works, from 'artificial life' 
> applications to
> automated data visualization systems to even plain old fashioned video
> and film and performance. Actions occur over time according to a
> pre-arranged plan. The plan may be simple, as is the case 
> with a video,
> or it may be very complex, influenced by intricate algorithms,
> dynamically scraped data, random seeds, etc. Such works often 
> have some
> interactivity to allow the user to browse through the product 
> or change
> perspectives, but this interaction is not critical to the overall
> concept.
>   "Interactive Experience" includes everything from mouse-following
> Flash toys to Playstation games. In such a product, the 
> interactivity is
> central to the experience. The user is invited to be involved, and the
> artist's intention/emotion/message is communicated through the user's
> actions and decisions. The experience can be physically immersive,
> visceral, or tactile... or it can be psychologically immersive or
> suspenseful. 
>   I am essentially trying to make a distinction between 
> experiences that
> are meant to be *seen*and those that are meant to be *used*. 
>   It is my feeling that the Interactive Experience model is the only
> truly new art form because it alone introduces a fundamentally new and
> different kind of experience to humanity. Browsing and clicking freely
> from page to page on a web site and seeing different pictures,
> animations, and texts only scratches the surface of what interactive
> artworks really can be. Browsing, in fact, is not even the 
> same as using
> or playing. AutoIllustrator and NATO, or Quake III and Grand 
> Theft Auto
> II, are qualitatively different kinds of things from most web sites -
> they invite the user to stop being a viewer and to start forming goals
> and plans entirely within the context of the app/game. They involve a
> mental transformation, a mode change in the mind. They ask the user to
> invest a bit of their own consciousness into the machine's
> protoconsciousness, to put a stake in what the program does next. 
>   Just as experiencing traditional media is different from 
> experiencing
> unmediated real life (this difference is disappearing in our
> media-saturated world, but this was not the case 100 years ago when
> seeing a movie was a jarring experience), experiencing 
> interactive media
> is different from traditional media in a fundamental phenomenological
> way.
> -Cf
> [christopher eli fahey]
> art:
> sci:
> biz:
> - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
> Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 00:16:06 -0400
> From: napier <>
>  >>> Lev Manovich wrote:
> >Thirty years of media art and post-modernism have inevitably led to a
> >reaction. We are tired of always taking existing media as a 
> starting point.
> >We are tired of being always secondary, always reacting to 
> what already
> >exists.
> >
> >Enter a software artist ­ the new romantic. Instead of 
> working exclusively
> >with commercial media ­ and instead of using commercial 
> software ­ software
> >artist marks his/her mark on the world by writing the original code.
> An interesting term: "original code".  Is this:
>          machine language (binary)
>          assembly language
>          BIOS calls
>          OS API calls
>          C, C++
>          Java
>          Flash Actionscript, Lingo
>          HTML, DHTML, Javascript, Perl
> A programmer can code in any one of these.  What 
> distinguishes hard-core 
> coding from soft-core is the level of access to features.  To 
> an assembly 
> level programmer Java is a lightweight language, but to an 
> HTML programmer 
> Java is hard-core coding.  The more power, flexibility and control a 
> language provides, the more we think of the language as 
> "original code".
> Is IOD "original" code (written in Lingo, the programming language of 
> Shockwave -- a commercial product).  Is Netomat "original" 
> (where screens 
> are generated by a scripting language that is built on XML and 
> Java).  These authors of these works have found a point in 
> the technology 
> where they can accomplish their goals.  IOD could be 
> implemented inside the 
> browser, using Perl, GIF images and Javascript.  Is this less 
> a product of 
> code than the same piece written in Lingo?
> >Programming liberates art from being secondary to commercial media.
> As much as I'd like to believe this...
> Progamming may produce new forms outside of commercial media, but 
> programming puts the artist into new relationships with other 
> existing 
> forms.  If I dabble in 3D rendering then my work could be 
> competing with 
> Pixar, Toy Story, and Shrek.  Can I accomplish what teams of Silicon 
> Graphics programmers can pull off?  No, but that's not my 
> role as an artist.
> A low tech example: Is an rtmark sabotage secondary to the 
> corporate image 
> being sabotaged?  The two are certainly related, and the 
> sabotage can be 
> seen as a reaction to the corporation.  But this sort of 
> action has it's 
> own presence as well, it's own aesthetic impact, that relies 
> on leveraging 
> existing forms, much as software artists leverage existing forms.
> Artists look for leverage points in the technology.  Flash is 
> one such 
> point, where powerful features are available with relatively little 
> effort.  Comparatively, Java has lagged behind in usage 
> because of it's 
> steeper learning curve, despite being versatile, powerful, 
> and an early 
> standard in browsers.
> There is a prejudice that a downloadable EXE is "real 
> software", maybe 
> because it appears to be more like the corporate software 
> products we're 
> familiar with.  Yet this is a 1980's approach to software.  For years 
> software has been breaking into pieces that can talk to one 
> another through 
> specialized programming interfaces.  Today the browser is an 
> engine that 
> can be embedded in email clients, Word documents, and 
> spreadsheets.  Software components provide services to other software 
> components, and languages frequently become the glue that connects 
> pre-fabricated components together.
> To use these powerful and complex tools the software artist 
> has to find 
> ways to create maximum impact with relatively little coding.  
> Very few 
> artists have access to a team of eager programmers.  And many 
> artists are 
> unwilling to invest the time to learn low level languages 
> like C, given the 
> inevitable dent it will make in the time they spend on 
> aesthetic issues.
> The artist has to decide where they will operate within this 
> structure of 
> interdependent software.  HTML is a form of high-level code 
> that instructs 
> the browser environment, much as Java can instruct the Windows OS, or 
> assembly code can instruct a chip.  All of these code forms require 
> investment of learning time, and provide access to features of the 
> computer.  The question is not "does the artist write code".  
>  The question 
> is: how much leverage does the artist get from their 
> knowledge.  What is 
> the bang-for-the-buck of HTML vs. Java, or C++.
> What this means, though, is that the artist never completely 
> "rolls their 
> own" software.  The artist never gets back to the world of 
> pigment, oil and 
> canvas.  In the medium of software, there is always 
> interdependence.  Even 
> suppose that I find a team of C programmers that are happy to 
> code low 
> level graphics routines for me, then I become dependent on 
> that team, still 
> a far cry from the romantic image of a solitary studio painter.
> My role as an artist is to crack open the technology and find 
> the humanity 
> at work under the tech veneer.  If I can do that with a Perl 
> script, then I 
> will.  When that form is too limiting, then I turn to Java.  
> But any tool I 
> use requires that I work in relationship to other tools, 
> environments, 
> products and media.
> mark
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