topical media & game development
development(s) -- philosophy and beyond
In teaching multimedia & game devlopment
I sometimes point out to my students what the
diffence is between an artist, an engineer and a (real) scientist.
In a nutshell:
- art -- rethorics of the material
- technology -- solving problem(s)
- science -- establish a theory
Leaving aside whether computer science is a science,
or for that matter what role the computer plays in it,
such a comparison is worthwhile, to make clear the mixture
of abilities and skills that a multimedia student must develop.
Not an essential skill, or even required background,
some knowledge of the
history of thought
philosophy is not a very popular subject, and
many seem to easily do away with philosophical abstractions
and apparently tedious theory, even though these same
philosophical abstractions may provide better understanding
of the forces
that are at work.
Concluding our manuscript, we will in this section briefly trace the evolution of the
notion of aesthetics to our current day understanding,
starting with the idealist transcendental conception of
aesthetics as the abstract a priori form of experience,
ending with semiotic theory that emphasizes the social
determinants of aesthetic experience.
Our discussion, is based on our studies
in the past, [Creativity], almost forgotten.
The outline given below
includes the references to the material we originally studied.
However, for reference, links to relevant online
material are also included.
- transcendental -- abstract form of experience, [Kritik]
- speculative -- criteria for beauty, [Urteil]
- phenomenological -- self-conscious subjectivity, [Phenomenology]
- psychoanalytical -- sub-conscious meaning, [Witz]
- pragmatical -- art as experience, [Pragmatics]
- hermeneutical -- understanding of the senses, [Hermeneutics]
- semiotics -- social construction of meaning, [Semiotics]
To my mind, the epistemological understanding of
aesthetics as the pure form of sensuousness, as expressed
in [Kritik], is most fundamental in understanding
the notion of aesthetics in the context of interactive systems,
since it allows us to characterize the dimensions of
sensuous awareness delimiting our experience of art,
architecture and interactive systems.
The epistemological or transcendental characterization
of aesthetics describes, in other words,
the a priori principles of sensuousness,
that determine our perception of reality,
by imposing organisation and form on the chaotic
multitude of appearances.
As phrased in [Kritik], appearances consist
of material, which is a posteriori given,
and form, determined by the a priori nature
of our mind.
As dimensions of pure sensuousness, or aesthetic awareness,
Kant distinguishes between space and time.
In [Urteil], the notion of aesthetic judgement is
Our ability for aesthetic awareness allows us to recognize
and appreciate beauty, however Kant emphasizes that
any attempt to conceptualize the judgement of beauty
is doomed to fail, or may at best be determined
empirically, in an ad hoc manner.
Later thinkers in the idealist school took over
Kants conception of aesthetic awareness as the receptive
side of our mind, in search for knowledge,
and emphasized the relation between truth and beauty, [Erziehung].
In particular [Phenomenology] characterized beauty
as the sensuous presence of Idea,
and he identifies our need for truth and beauty
with the intrinsic movement of self-consciousness.
In other words, aesthetic awareness in not a dis-interested a
priori ability that allows us to organise our perceptions
and to recognize and appreciate pure form, rather
it is intentional and through self-reflection
subject to recurrent improvement and change,
continuously looking for truth and beauty,
that is meaning.
We may note here that psychoanalytic theory has contributed
to understanding the hidden dimensions of meaning, [Witz].
Hegels conception of aesthetic awareness is
surprisingly close to the idea of pragmatic aesthetics
as expressed by [Pragmatics],
a representative of the anglo-saxon school of empiricist
philosophy which is in many ways irreconcilable with
the German idealist/phenomenologist school of thinking.
Essential in Dewey's thinking is the notion
of qualitative immediacy and
the unification of awareness and judgement in
the experience of art, where Dewey stresses the
re-creating role of the subject/recipient in experiencing art.
In this way, the experience of art is instrumental,
according to Dewey, to reconcile the individual
with his environment.
A similar concern with the existential role of the experience
of art, and consequently aesthetic awareness, may be
found in hermeneutic thinking of the 20th century, where
for example [Hermeneutics] speaks of beauty
bridging the gap between the ideal and reality.
However, by that time art is no longer pure but must
as aesthetic art be appreciated with
a certain degree of distance,
that is its judgement is no longer direct,
governed by pure sensuousness, but regulated by reflection
and to a certain extent disciplined appreciation.
This position may, however, be attributed to the role of
the arts in the 19th and 20th century, and even, as
argumented by [VirtualArt], be seen as an
opposition to the mass media of the 19th century, which strived for
direct sensuous immersion, for example in life-like panoramas.
The influence of convention and social context
has been studied in semiotic theory, [Semiotics],
and in our time, where we are concerned with
the influence of the old and new media, and
media literacy is (again) one of the urgent
topics on our political agenda, the relation
between sensuousness and reflection is again of interest.
We believe that the semiotic perspective is of particular
importance for the design of interactive systems.
Nevertheless, to summarize this section, for
our epistemological understanding of aesthetics
the original notion of sensuousness as
the receptive side of our faculty of knowledge
still seems to provide a good starting point.
However, both an analytic view of aesthetic awareness,
which for example forces us to think about the
difference between aesthetic experience and a
drug-induced state of mind, [Aesthetics],
and a recognition of the moral dimension of beauty,
[Meditations], may serve us in establishing the value
of aesthetics for the design and appreciation of
Assuming a notion of aesthetics as a logic of sensibility,
we may, in summary, distinguish between three dimensions of form,
extending Kant's original proposal, as indicated below:
dimensions of aesthetic awareness
- spatial -- topological relations, layout of image
- temporal -- order, rhythm, structure
- dynamic -- interaction, reflection, involvement
The dimension of dynamics clearly is the great
unknown, and more in particular it is the dimension we
have to explore in the context of interactive
systems, not in isolation but in relation to the other
not so much to establish definite criteria,
but to understand the forces at work, or in other words
the relevant parameters of design.
[Imagination] gives an existential foundation
for the dimension of dynamics, by observing
that the human body is instrumental in gaining awareness,
as the centre of both obscurity and reflection from
which consciousness emerges, through selection and action.
It is in the existential dimension of aesthetic awareness that we come most close to the
experience of the new digital artefacts, since it concerns both involvement and human action.
Interestingly, and in apparent contradiction with [Presence],
cited previously, to establish
a foundation for the aesthetics of interactive systems [Interaction]
seek refuge with pragmatist aesthetics
as it promotes aesthetics of use rather than aesthetics of appearance.
Again, although we agree with the gist of [Interaction],
we wish to emphasize that the contribution of pragmatist
aesthetics is not its focus on use, but the role
of experience in understanding and appreciating
aesthetic artefacts, that is the active role
of the subject in becoming aware of its meaning.
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