Philosophical Criticism of Digital Art

An introduction to aesthetic value and philosophy of art as pertaining to common views that reject digital art's authenticity and essence.

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Picture from Blue Ridge Botanic.

Philosophical inquiries into the discussion of beauty and the definition or function of art have been at the center of the general human experience for millennia. Before we get into the specific realms of film, poetry, or a modern conglomeration of music, film, and poetry, we will go over the broad critiques of digital art and art more generally. It is important to note that throughout this essay, you will get a glimpse into many theories and definitions that could easily conflict with the story I tell later throughout the project. However, I encourage you to think about your experiences with digital art and how each piece in this collection guides you to feel after reading this essay.

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Picture from DeviantArt user @theaiphilosopher.

To revert to the everso-referenced and beloved Greek philosopher Plato, we see an interesting distinction that continues within the philosophical discussion of art: the aesthetic versus the philosophy of art. Aesthetics, in Plato’s sense and an overall understanding of modern aesthetics, is the study of beauty and includes art and attempts to determine aesthetic value. This distinction works with the different aspects of objects or subjects, some being outside of art, that compose a specific aesthetic response. Plato introduces a foundational idea of art and aesthetics as defined by imitation or the Greek word mimêsis. Imitation becomes a foundation in aesthetic scholarship that things are beautiful through their mimicry of more physical aspects. An application of this analysis of beauty is through the performance of art by an actor through their imitation of a character as realistic. Some interpretations of this would lead to the influence of realism, as it seemed to most people that if we find something beautiful, like a flower, in real life, to transform that beauty into art, we would want to imitate it as closely as possible.

However, there seems to be another aspect that has more influence on the modern understanding of the aesthetic and discussion of art: creation. Berys Gaut, in his book The Philosophy of Creativity (2010), looks into the role of creativity in philosophical questions that reach even further than art, but for our purposes, highlights a very integral aspect of analyzing art and aesthetic value by looking at the role of creation. Then, to find something beautiful in something, especially art, for Gaut, is to detect where one has created something or transformed something out of another. They took notes and made a symphony; they grabbed clay and made a sculpture. This project will look at the transformation modern artists undergo in both that regard and through their use of digitalization.

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Poking fun through this AI photo of nature from Pixaby.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s look into some more of the specific criticisms of digital art to consider when viewing the annotations and essays throughout the project. As we move through time, and new art forms emerge, we watch philosophers hold on desperately to their times and beloved art forms by rejecting the new. We see this commonly documented through the development of photography, which can directly relate to both the tensions of imitation and creation. In The Salon of 1859 (1859), Charles Baudelaire offered fear and an independently integral discussion of art on photography and his fear in a growingly mechanical age, much like what we see in Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936). Baudelaire criticizes photography by saying:

“It is useless and tedious to represent what exists, because nothing that exists satisfies me…. I prefer the monsters of my fantasy to what is positively trivial.”

So, to bring together what this project hopes you will keep in mind while looking through its collection, one should recognize the criticism of the modern world of art in part through its desire to either make money or reproduce itself as a representation of a capitalist system, but also consider its beauty in terms of what it has transformed into and how aspects of creation or creativity make an influence on each of them. To further Benjamin’s interpretation of Baudelaire in his work, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines his interpretation as “the transformation of historical time by the commodity form.” Already, we are beginning to see the importance of time and transformation in these “newer” questions of art and aesthetic value, so let’s get into the forms themselves.