By Evan Thomas
I often teach a general education Humanities course (HUM 200, officially titled Connections: Humanities and Technology) on the topic of “Automatic Art.” As a Humanities class, we study representative elements from the entire range of arts and letters:
- we study the Hockney-Falco hypothesis that primitive optical cameras were used in the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age;
- we study dark fantasies about computerized composition in Gulliver’s Travels;
- we study attempts to express pure mathematics in music from Bach to Conlon Nancarrow to black MIDI;
- we study the productivity-based philosophy Taylorism alongside the utopian Constructivist designers who embraced it.
Those are representative examples of the coursework – but what is “Automatic Art”? The term doesn’t actually have much reality outside of my course. (Frustrated students will often turn to the surrealist technique of Automatic Writing, which does exist, but has little bearing on the collection of objects we study.) I like to tell students that “automatic art” is equivalent to “taking the human out of art,” but what does that actually mean?