Transposing, Transforming, and Transcending Tradition in Creative Digital Media

Transposing, Transforming, and Transcending Tradition in Creative Digital Media

Phillip Andrew Prager (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Maureen Thomas (University of Cambridge, UK) and Marianne Selsjord (Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Norway)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 59
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8205-4.ch008
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How can digital media technologies, contemporary theories of creativity, and tradition combine to develop the aesthetics of computer-based art today and in the future? Through contextualised case-studies, this chapter investigates how games, information technologies, and traditional visual and storytelling arts combine to create rich, complex, and engaging moving-image based artworks with wide appeal. It examines how dramatist and interactive media artist Maureen Thomas and 3D media artist and conservator Marianne Selsjord deploy creative digital technologies to transpose, transform, and transcend pre-page arts and crafts for the digital era, making fresh work for new audiences. Researcher in digital aesthetics, creative cognition, and play behaviour Dr. Phillip Prager examines how such work is conducive to creative insight and worthwhile play, discussing its remediation of some of the aspirations and approaches of 20th-century avant-garde artists, revealing these as a potent source of conceptual riches for the digital media creators of today and tomorrow.
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Certain objects can be intentionally constructed in such a way that they are eminently suitable for disinterested and sympathetic attention and contemplation. They will contain structures that guide attention and contemplation – that encourage it by means of their intentionally designed features of unity, complexity and intensity – and that reward such attention and contemplation. The aesthetic experiencer will not have to do all the work herself. The object itself will be structured intentionally to invite, sustain and, optimally, reward disinterested and sympathetic attention and contemplation. Such objects, of course, are artworks. (Carroll, 2010, pp. 172-173)

Are digital and interactive technologies changing the nature of the artwork? This chapter addresses the transposition, transformation and transcending of traditional techniques from painting and sculpture in creative digital media, to create artworks whose new approaches to unity, complexity and intensity reward attention and contemplation in new ways. It employs both aesthetic and scientific approaches to the nature of creativity and the impact of interactive works, arguing for a recognition of play and playfulness as a significant component in contemporary electronic art and an acknowledgement of the continuities of both traditional and avant-garde practices in today’s digital environment.

In Creativity and Art: Three Roads to Surprise (2010) Margaret A. Boden notes:

As a practice, interactive art – wherein the form of the art object is partly determined by the actions of the audience (or, occasionally, by non-human forces) – is by now well established. It’s not mainstream, to be sure. But it’s an identifiable genre (Krueger, 1991; Candy & Edmonds, 2002; Ascott, 2003; Whitelaw, 2004). However, there’s no established aesthetics associated with it. […] The nature of the interaction is considered to be at least as important as that of the art object itself. But interaction doesn’t figure as a consideration in traditional aesthetics. Moreover, the artists concerned disagree among themselves about what type of interaction is most interesting and/or most humanly significant. […] A related uncertainty concerns the attribution of creativity, or artistic responsibility, for the artwork. […] Many interactive artists not only insist that the audience are participants in the art-making, but claim that this distributed responsibility has value in itself, so is a factor in their aesthetic creation. (Boden, 2010, p. 210)

Marianne Selsjord’s Gardens of Dreaming (2009) and Marvellous Transformations (2014), and Maureen Thomas’s Vala (2001), RuneCast (2007) and Viking Seeress (2010), the major case-studies considered here, offer an approach which hopefully contributes to identifying the aesthetics of interactive art, including interactivity and participative creativity, that Boden misses. These works draw on the European art and craft traditions of sculpture, painting, carving, metalwork and oral composition, from the Viking Age through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the 20th-century avant-garde, whose processes they transform for the digital era. These approaches are inherently transferable, and could be adapted for many kinds of original work. The case-studies are contextualised both with reference to traditional arts and aesthetics, and contemporary 3D-games art.

Selsjord and Thomas’s work falls into Boden and Edmonds’ category of “Computer-based Interactive Art (CI-Art)”, where “the form/content […] is significantly affected by the behaviour of the audience”, and the case-studies are presented within this theoretical framework. “With regard to CI-art,” Boden and Edmonds note “perhaps we should speak not of the ‘artwork’ but of the ‘art system’ - where this comprises the artist, the program, the technological installation (and its observable results), and the behaviour of the human audience” (Boden, 2010, p.155). Both Thomas and Selsjord regard 3D digital media, explorable art and narrativity as fresh mediums, capable of giving a new lease of life to traditional practices and enjoyments, whilst contributing innovative potentials of their own.

Working with the computer as both tool and medium requires an understanding of the affordances of software and fluency with the visual and physical languages of interactivity. The interaction situation, interaction devices and interaction itself in the experiences are all viewed here, in line with Boden and Edmonds’ observations, as integral components of the artwork as a whole, and thus of its aesthetic. This approach can be applied more widely by creative media artists seeking to build on the traditional excellences of the past to push the boundaries of contemporary art.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Spatially Organised Narrativity: In navigable 3D computer-supported and generated environments, the interaction between place and drama is mutually supportive. Traditionally, medieval European drama was spatially organised in its staging, sometimes playing different scenes in actual locations in a real village, with the audience following the drama from place to place; and sometimes staging scenes on pageant wagons, which moved through town, stopping in different places, where audiences gathered to construct the narrative piece by piece. Orally composed epics also use type-locations to stage scenes and configure their narratives. Such reconfigurable, recombinant, participative, locative composition and staging can be effectively transposed to the explorable navigable worlds of digital narrativity.

Oral Composition: A technique for the extempore live composition of (sung) tales or narratives, traditionally evolved over many generations by performers who do not know how to write, but also used in the present day by storytellers and folk singers. A repertoire of formulas, often using quite small formulaic expressions as well as larger arcs, are combined and recombined according to themes or storyshapes to build the narrative, taking into account the response of the audience. This recombinant technique can be used very effectively in computer-handled narrativity, where the medium is closer to orality than literacy.

Digital Aesthetics: The sensual properties of and responses to artwork; also critical reflection on art and culture. Tracing links between the practices of digital artists, particularly in 3D, and earlier visual arts, our chapter addresses the claim that there is no established aesthetics associated with computer-based interactive art.

Interaction Design: Design of the functionality of artworks which reveal themselves over time – visitors do not at once perceive all that the work has to offer, but discover its full potential gradually, actively participating in its exploration/construction. The design of the interaction is an essential part of the design both of the artwork and of the interactors’ experience of it. For example, using sensitive dependence on initial conditions, effective interaction design can free many elements of the work/experience from authorial control without relinquishing coherence, by playfully engaging the interactor in the creative process, to deliver creative as well as aesthetic and narrative satisfaction.

Chance Operations: Indeterminacy and the aleatory embedded in artworks to avoid the mechanical and predictable feel of works generated according to rules. Used in computer-based interactive art where designed, choreographed and/or composed forms are combined using randomising algorithms in addition to narrative rules, to offer an exciting, unpredictable, aesthetically pleasing and engaging experience analogous to improvisation, based on a constantly changing dynamic.

Tangible Interface: Human beings perceive their surroundings through sense; vision, hearing, smell and touch can all be stimulated through tangible interfaces, where visitors physically use a device activated by touch or movement which links the everyday world with the realms of computer-based interactive artworks. The process of interaction itself is a part of the aesthetic experience.

Avant-Garde: Adjective deriving from the work of European artists of the first quarter of the 20 th century, who believed in relinquishing authorial control and advocated flexibility of mind and freedom from institutions. They experimented with collage and recombinant, spatially organized and associational narrative, visual and verbal; and articulated principles of creative cognition with sophisticated insight and an astute, redefining art in terms of creativity and emphasizing the importance of play and positive emotions.

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