Vademecum of digital art

Vademecum of digital art


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

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

Summer 2003


The so-called digital art has not finished trying to get into Contemporary Art, that is in Art History. Why is it so difficult ? Because the worse stands alongside the best indistinctively. Cause or consequence, critique is scarce. In front of this void, the task of curators, juries, commissionners is difficult, though crucial.

This vademecum reminds some precepts to keep in mind in order to avoid the worse in terms of digital artwork or digital artwork 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 word “digital” when looking at, listening to or experimenting a so-called digital artwork.

2) If you don’t understand anything to 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 personnal.

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 personnal.

5) 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.

6) If a project consists in a transcoding, 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 digitalizable (what is not ?), don’t forget that every digital coding is arbitrary because it is determined by technical contraints preexisting to the artwork. Transcoding is thus mere “found object”. Wonder if the artist brings a shape, a meaning, a style or an approach to this arbitrary trancoding, and which.

7) 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 ingeniosity.

8) 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 so-called digital art).

9) 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.

10) 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 prolongating more or less consciously the ambiant commercial proselytism. Don’t forget that most technologies have nothing revolutionnary, especially for the artistic world.

11) 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.


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