776: Metacreation by Mitchell Whitelaw

by Gerard


776: Whitelaw, Mitchell. Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004. 237 pp. ISBN 0-262-23234-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 700: Fine Arts
  • 770: Photography, photographs, and computer art
  • 776: Computer art

When a computer generates an image, is it art? Can the image be random pixels, or must there be human guidance of what the computer generates? In Metacreation, Mitchell Whitelaw looks at the history of computer-generated and computer-related art from the perspective of both an art curator and a historian. Whitelaw’s first concern is introducing the reader to the field of artificial life art, or “a-life art.” In this case, artificial life is the creation of biological processes in a technological environment, or having a computer simulate complex natural interactions using code and rule sets. Then, using the simulated processes, the artists create works that show how the worlds of technology and biology interact.

There’s one glaring issue with this book: a lot of the works of art aren’t very good, or even thought-provoking. Whitelaw does his best to explain the place of each work in the history of the medium, but the pieces collected are just underwhelming. A lot of it has to do with the performance capacity of the computers used in the early days of a-life art (think graphics from the original Tron or Lawnmower Man movies). Some of the best pieces are the technological sculptures of Yves Amu Klein which present a world of crisp, futuristic biology. Much of newer a-life art relies on chaos theory and fractal equations to show how the equations that pervade everyday life result in interesting works of art. With some time, this field can grow and rival traditional pieces of brush and bronze, but for now, I think there is still some work to be done. An interesting but ultimately uninspired book.