Questioning Digital Aesthetics


Interactive multimedia art does indeed sets new standards as regard considerations of form, fabric, and interpretation. It seems as if our traditional idea of the work of art as a more or less fixed temporal and spatial entity interferes with the floating structure of the cyber-artwork. When does a piece of art or a multimedia installation seize to be that particular work or installation, and instead becomes an altogether different one? Digital art moves in areas of deliberate hybrid constellations wherein specific artistic knowledge and instruments of meaning reveal innovative, generic de-placements and infinite input-output-architectures. In light of these new conditions and possibilities, I set out to explore how we are to unite existing interactive computer art with a speculative, philosophical aesthetic. In the age of digital simulacra, a work of art is never safe, never to be trusted, never to be invested, since a digital piece is always already in the hands of a consumer who is both interpreter and creator. Guided by, respectively, Immanuel Kant, Niklas Luhmann, and Lars Qvortrup, a distinction between structural transcendentalism (Kant) and aposterioric functionalism (Luhmann, Qvortrup) is drawn in order to locate the specific field in which digital art operates. Kant says that true beauty is placed in the form attributed to the transcendental subject; and this form acts as a prism through which the art-thing is experienced. Luhmann, on the other hand, suggests that art, in its emancipation from religious, metaphysical, or edifying motives, none the less 'obliges' itself to difference. Modern art must be conceived as a difference which is propelled forward when man, in the absence of a 'clean' code of communication, embarks upon an artform which, paradoxically, tries to articulate the very un-explicable or un-articulated fabric of true expression. Luhmann's perspective seems to answer well to the praxis of digital artforms. Here the raison d'être of art is to put elements and viewpoints within the world at stake and at stage - to open up the level between the artist's form-decision and the art-spectator's fluctuating and unpredictable form-realisation. However, this new relation between artist, work of art, and public sphere is by far an unreflected aftermath of multiple social constructivist theses. Even though we may acknowledge the turn in the philosophy of art towards a polycentric system in which many different social codes are manifested, we must also maintain that the artist can be depicted as a unique 'point' in the ecology of art-structure from where the initial (and hence original) form-condition and -decision are extracted. Thus we have an 'artist of the first degree' who happens to press the button right before the work of art takes on its infinite journey towards change in character, form, and originality. But, however, all that which we used to call interpretation now reach into materialised expression; a fact that, negatively speaking, also means that the art-market is overflowed by products that are 'merely' spiralling reproductions of the original content. Mona Lisa with a beard and sunglasses may be performance art on Louisiana, but it is a crime on Louvre.

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Preferred Citation
Walther, Bo Kampmann: Questioning Digital Aesthetics. In: Dichtung Digital. Journal für Kunst und Kultur digitaler Medien, Jg. 2 (2000-08-22), Nr. 6, S. 1-10. DOI:
 author = {Walther, Bo Kampmann},
 title = {Questioning Digital Aesthetics},
 year = 2000-08-22,
 doi = "\url{}",
 volume = 2,
 address = {Cambridge},
 journal = {Dichtung Digital. Journal für Kunst und Kultur digitaler Medien},
 number = 6,
 pages = {1--10},
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