New Bruce Sterling According to Aesthetics

I read something that Bruce Sterling wrote about New Aesthtics. It seems to be rougly an aesthetics that occurs inbetween man and machine. Lots of infographics, glitches, cybernetics, physical computing and all that.

I wasn’t aware that this was a thing. I’ve been following the Tumblr ever since it featured 2SLEEP1, which I made with Raquel Meyers. I don’t know, but perhaps what I do has something to do with new aesthetics?

Reading his text was quite interesting, to start with. I think he’s managed to pin down some rather ‘contemporary things’. But when he dissed 8-bit aesthetics he lost me. Of course. Sterling writes that retro ’80s graphics are sentimental fluff for modern adults who grew up in front of 1980s game-console machines.

Yes, sometimes it is. Probably most of the time. Just like almost anything else can be dissed as being ‘nostalgic’. It’s too easy to disregard ‘8bit’ as anything with large pixels. That’s not really the point. Not to me anyway. I’ve become accustomed to this style of expression, just like he is accustomed to books, magazines, records, or whatever he’s into. Most 8-bit graphics are pretty boring, just like most books are. But I wouldn’t diss books as being nostalgic fluff, would I?

For me, his primary mistake is to try to separate man from machine, culture and nature, object and subject. New aesthetics is about exploring the exact opposite to that, I thought? When it all comes together. When irrogation creates patterns that look like text art from space. Or when your own camera has a better view of a concert than yourself. Also, I’m not sure why aesthetics has to be only about images. If anything, it should include sounds too?

Sterling writes that machines are not our friends or art critics. At the risk of sounding naive — I’d say that they’re getting pretty close. If all your Facebook-friends were bots, would you know the difference? If the plays, likes and downloads of your works were all performed by bots – would it make you sad?

Sterling says that machines lack cognition, ethics and taste. I say: how would he know, and even if it’s true, who cares? For me that’s irrelevant. It seems a lot more interesting to explore the area inbetween human concepts and machinic concepts (whatever that would be).

I guess Sterling is responding to some sort of debate that I’ve completely missed. Also I admit that I haven’t read much of his texts at all, so perhaps I’m ignorant of the context. Anyway. I do agree with some of the things he says, such as:

An intellectually honest New Aesthetic would have wider horizons than a glitch-hunt. It would manifest a friendlier attitude toward non-artistic creatives and their works. It would be kinder with non-artists, at ease with them, helpful to them, inclusive of them, of service to them. It’s not enough to adopt a grabbier attitude toward the inanimate products of their engineering.

Engineers are great. But not even them can predict what a machine will be able to do in the future. With some good feedback from humans, they can do some fuuuckkedd uppp shiiit maaaan.

PS. My own works are heavily based on manual work. Just listen to 2SLEEp1. I’m perhaps more interested in the human craft side of new aesthetics. Still, I find Sterling’s humanism pretty retro-nostalgic.

8 Responses to “New Bruce Sterling According to Aesthetics”

  1. Dragan Says:

    Sterling denying machines the ability to be art critics or friends is actually quite progressive for appearing at the corners of a publication like Wired.

    I think it is pretty clear what computers can do and what they cannot do, not much has changed since Weizenbaum’s “Computer Power and Human Reason”. What has changed is what meaning humans assign to computer generated stuff. Computers were called “electronic brains” at one point, but soon people figured out computers are not really comparable with brains. Today we have Google Image Search, do not assume the Google Bot can think or has taste or whatever, but assign it the job of an art critic and treat its output like an art critic’s. Even if we think this art critic’s job is just to compile a representative, neutral collection of images, this is a wrong idea, based on metaphors and fairy tales told by Google’s brand.

    If the New Aesthetic happens to be an umbrella under which such things can be uncovered and explored, that’s okay with me at least.

    I think however that it is yet unfit to discuss things as manually created computer art. Apparently they still didn’t get over the fact that a computer can be programmed to compose a symphony or do some fractals or find the differences in between two images. The only ambiguity there is still computer generated randomness or noise in the AD converters, or a “glitch” in the software. I believe that real ambiguity is where the relation of humans and computers is defined — unless we accept that a computer can be an art critic and let computer language rule human language. :)

    In short, I believe that a quantitative increase in computer power or computing events anywhere, is not more than that, a quantitative increase in potentially executed symbol manipulation. It does not create any more meaning that less computing. If you are looking for meaning inside there, you will have to go a very long way to the bottom, or be ready to just invent something before your research contract runs out.

  2. puke7 Says:

    Perhaps I am being obtuse here, but I wonder how 80’s video games are sentimental fluff for young nerds discovering them for the first time?

  3. goto80 Says:

    They could be if you accept the idea of collective nostalgia. But perhaps it’s not about nostalgia. But otoh, Sterling didn’t say that either. All he said was that old nerds are nostalgic. And they are, quite often.

  4. puke7 Says:

    Yeah, I’m probably missing the whole point; having a discussion about machines as friends or critics. But one thing I give the 8bit machine world credit for is it’s simplicity in design. I’ve always believed that 6502 ML should be a standard class introduction class to any computer science degree. If you can’t figure out how to write a simple program whilst given a complete memory map and a list of op codes then you may never survive in the programming world. That there is a great critical reflection.

  5. RedNight Says:

    Sterling has never acknowledged Commodore, it’s basically ignored in his book. He also tends to ignore the BBS scene as well. Despite that the C64 was the best selling computer, and despite the large scale communication and distribution made possible by the boards.

    Please tell me one complete computer made in the last five years that is comprehendible by one person, and has full documentation on how to take advantage of it. The only two things I can think are the Arduino, which doesn’t have sound or graphics, and the Raspberry Pi, which has proprietary users off limits GPU.

  6. Media Convergence as Bubble-Bubble | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] complained about Bruce Sterling before, and now I’m about to do it again. The reaon is this chart of platform convergence by Gary […]

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