Vademecum of digital art

for the use of curators, juries, commissioners, collectors, critics,

of digital art, of art on computers, of new technology art, of net art.

Antoine Schmitt - - Summer 2003


"Digital" art is still struggling to get into Contemporary Art, that is in Art History. Why is it so difficult? Because the worse stands alongside the best indistinctively. By cause or consequence, critique is scarce. Confronted with this void, the task of curators, juries, commissioners is difficult, though crucial.

This vademecum gathers some precepts to keep in mind in order to avoid the worst in terms of "digital" artwork or a "digital" art project description.



--- Vademecum of digital art ---

1) Notice that 'digital' does not mean much anymore when everything is digital, from the telephone to the camera, from the videocamera to the audio CD, from the car to the DVD. Forget the 'digital' word when looking at, listening to or experimenting with "digital" artwork.

2) If you don't understand any of the technical terms used in the description of the artwork or the project, wonder if the artist understands more, and if most of his or her energy did not go into the comprehension of the technologies used, and that his work does not deal mainly with this learning, which has the interest that it has.

3) If an artist claims to deal with the dangers or the benefit of technology, put this work in relationship with the XXth century Art History (Constructivism, Futurism, Modernism, etc...) and wonder what he or she brings that is new or personal.

4) In the case of a conceptual project, consisting mainly in its description on paper, check that, as it is often the case, a similar project has not been realized already in Art History (digital or not), and if yes, wonder what the new project brings that is new or personal.

5) If a project consists in a mere mapping, that is if it can be described by "this is transformed into that", where this and that are : an audio shape (voice, music, etc...), a visual shape (image, video flux, performer image, drawing in the sand, etc...), an internet-based traffic pattern (emails, search engine requests, low level traffic, etc...), sensors (cerebral wave, temperature, stock quote, movement of a dancer, etc...) or anything that is digitizable (what is not ?), don't forget that every digital coding is arbitrary because it is determined by technical constraints preexisting to the artwork. Mapping is thus mere "found object". Wonder if the artist brings a shape, a meaning, a style or an approach to this arbitrary mapping, and which.

6) If in front of an artwork you wonder "But how did she do it?" or "How does it work?” wonder if there is more to the work than technical virtuosity or ingeniousness.

7) If you find an artwork nice, cute, fun or amusing, wonder if it is anything more than decorative or entertaining. (This is true for any artwork but it seems there are much more in the world of "digital" art).

8) If the description of an artwork looks like the catalog of a computer reseller, check if the artwork contains more than mere fascination for technology.

9) If the description of a project centers around a particular technology, especially if it is recent, trendy or commercial, whether to use it or to revisit it, wonder if the project is not about prolonging more or less consciously the ambient commercial proselytism. Don't forget that most technologies have nothing revolutionary, especially for the artistic world.

10) If an artwork consists mainly in its description on paper, wonder if it is really necessary to produce at high cost its real size version.

11) If you like a project description check out the previous realizations of the artist to see whether he or she is not a better writer than an artist.

12) Don't forget that the most important is to look, listen and experiment the work. And if you like it, risk it. There is an Art History to build.

----- Antoine Schmitt - - Summer 2003
With the help of Gabriel Sim-Laramee for the translation