(Version 3.3 May 20, 2001)

Valdemar W. Setzer
Dept. of Computer Science, University of São Paulo, Brazil


In this essay, based upon a lecture given on April 1996 at the Museum of Contemporary Art of The University of São Paulo, Brazil, we discuss the role of computers as instruments of artistic creation. To regard this machine in a correct perspective, it is first necessary to briefly characterize what it is and how it impoverishes the information which it processes. Then we proceed to give a brief characterization of art, comparing it with science. We examine the ways computers are used as instruments of art, to determine in which areas of art it is valid to use computers. After a brief incursion in the area of teaching art, we conclude with considerations of teaching for social attitudes and the role of art and computers in this process.

1. Introduction

As we shall see, the computer is an abstract machine. Thus, it seems natural that art has used it as an instrument, because modern art has in general been deviating from the realm of feelings, expressed through figurative art, or through abstract art with esthetic sense. This has led artistic activities to be based to a large extent on abstract and formal thinking, trying to get closer to scientific activities - which have brought so much apparent success in the 20th century. A book by a colleague at my university reveals very well this tendency: composer Willy Correa de Oliveira's Beethoven - the owner of a brain (in Portuguese, São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, 1979). He did not use the wording "... of a heart," or of both, at least - he was primarily interested on the formal aspects which are found in Beethoven's music, as it had been just "calculated" by the Bonn composer. By the way, he made a mistake, because the present knowledge about the brain does not permit to conclude that any mental activity, much less creativity, originates in the brain. We will see how the computer is an ideal instrument for the development of this tendency of regarding art as a science. We have to begin with a brief description of what a computer is.

2. The computer

Every machine which is not a computer has as a main objective to either transform, transport or store matter or energy. For example, the purpose of a power lathe is transforming a piece of wood or metal into an object of circular sections, a vehicle transporting goods or people, a battery storing electrical energy. Even prosthetic machines as telescopes serve to transform light energy, enlarging the image.

On the other hand, a computer also performs those three actions, not with matter or energy, but with data. Note that we used the word "data", and not "information". We define data as a quantified or quantifiable symbolic representation through text, figure, sound and animation [15]. In fact, the sympathy or antipathy, which we may feel towards another person, may be personally regarded as a piece of information about her and about ourselves. Nevertheless, it is impossible to precisely describe such a subjective feeling (whose inner, strictly personal experience is totally different from any possible description of it). What is possible to do with a computer is storing a verbal description of these feelings; this would by itself represent an impoverishment of the latter, and would not substantially differ from any other printed recording. But if it is wished to have it processed, making the machine perform transformations on it, it would have to be treated as a formal symbol, e.g. by introducing a gradation scale such as -3 (very antipathetic) through +3 (very sympathetic) - which will permit an "exact" comparison of "sympathies," the calculation of an "average sympathy," etc. Obviously, this representation means an even further impoverishment of the original information. It is interesting to observe that computers are purely syntactic machines, where all data - and programs - are described in a pure formal, structural way without any semantics whatsoever (see the paper "Data, information, knowledge and competency" on my web site).

It is important to make here a necessary distinction between the storage of texts, images and sound, which are simply reproduced, eventually with some edition of their form (e.g. text indentation, contrast accentuation in pictures, noise filtering), and data processing. We consider the latter as a treatment of data, transforming their contents, that is, the semantics we associate to them. Notice that the number 40,000 stored somewhere in a computer, even connected by physical contiguity or through "pointers" (storage addresses) to pieces of texts such as "salary" and "Mary" means absolutely nothing to the computer. It obviously does not make any association between those two strings of letters and what they represent in the "real" world. Mary could carry a badge with an electronic emitter, so the computer could locate her (in Bill Gate's futuristic home, for example) and "distinguish" her from other people; still, what means "to be Mary" cannot be inserted into the computer. Just interchange badges among people and see what happens - would we humans not recognize our friend Mary? And even if a pattern recognition system could (coarsely) associate Mary's face with some other of her attributes stored in the machine, all attributes have to be represented in the formal-symbolic computer way, which is certainly not our non-formal way. Moreover, if Rudolf Steiner is correct the difference would be insurmountable, because humans make use of their thinking as a non-physical bridge between their inner representations ("Vorstellungen") and a Platonic, Goethean, non-physical existing world of ideas [18], as we expound below. Some examples of such transformations by computers are text translation between (natural) languages, deduction of stylistic characteristics, generation of drawings by programs as in the well-known case of fractals, etc.

One of our theses is that data processing also impoverishes information. Data have nothing to do with reality. They are symbolic representations of symbolic-logical, abstract thoughts, and as such they don't need to have physical consistency; eventually, they may be mental models of some reality - but they are never reality itself. Note that the present scientific knowledge about thinking processes does not permit stating that they are purely physical processes. At most, it is known that certain areas of the brain are activated in certain types of thoughts, feelings and willing (the impulse to act), but it is not possible to assert that neurons or whatever physical elements or processes generate these inner activities, as well as consciousness and, much less, self-consciousness. It is possible to conjecture that neural activity is a consequence of these soul, that is, non-physical activities, without contradicting present scientific knowledge (we are not referring here to judgments made by scientists). Let us be even more specific, and state that below a certain fuzzy boundary of smallness, even matter itself can be conjectured to having a non-physical "consistency." This would explain why it is necessary to express the properties of atomic and sub-atomic particles through purely mathematical (that is, mental, non-physical) models which have no classical limit, as in quantum mechanics. In other words, we cannot comprehend them using our daily physical experience or, better, they "make no (physical) sense." In that fuzzy boundary, the non-physical could well influence the physical and vice-versa. We are sure that this hypothesis would open an enormous research field, and it is a pity that the materialism prevailing in scientific thinking mainly since last century prevents the formulation of such non-physical hypothesis and its research. The discovery that quarks, the supposed building blocks of matter, may eventually be decomposed into more fundamental particles has led to the conjecture that we shall never know what matter really is (that is, using the present scientific methods, and we hope that these results make some physicists change their view on matter). For us this has always been evident, because from a material point of view matter does not make sense, in the same way as a material origin for the universe and its material boundaries do not make sense. It will be necessary to change the present scientific method to obtain knowledge on these and other fundamental issues such as life, consciousness (recently turned into a hot research topic, but invariably through materialistic optics), sleep, death, etc.

It is precisely the imponderableness of data and its alienation in relation to the physical world that has permitted computers to be built smaller and smaller. This cannot happen with any other type of machine which acts upon that world. In fact, the latter may be characterized as being concrete. On the other hand, computers are mathematical, thus abstract, virtual machines. Therefore, every piece of data processing must exclusively employ formal thoughts (that is, those thoughts that are devoid of direct connection to some external reality, have no subjective interpretation, etc.) expressed under the form of computer programs. Being extremely restrictive and unilateral, this logical-symbolic processing enormously restrict the space of information treatment. As we have seen, it requires that information be expressed under the form of data. Such restrictions are even mathematical: it is not possible to represent in a computer the notions of infinity, infinitesimal and the continuum, but only approximations thereof.

The characterization of a computer as an abstract machine becomes even clearer when one observes that any programming language is strictly formal, that is, it may be fully mathematically described. Furthermore, the logical functioning of a computer can also be expressed through logical-mathematical formulations. Machines of other types don't have this characteristic, because they act directly upon matter (energy included), and thus escape a fully mathematical description.

But not only programming languages are formal. Any command language, even an iconic one, permitting the user to employ any software, is mathematically formal. For instance, any text editor command, such as one producing a certain indentation, performs actions of the computer which may be described as a mathematical function applied to the text being worked upon - considered as a string of formal symbols - or to the mathematically defined state of the machine.

The conclusion is that to program or to use a computer it is necessary to formulate thoughts of a strictly abstract, mathematical space. This mathematical space does not appear to be mathematical at all, but in fact it is. People are led to this mistake because programming and mainly command languages differ from the traditional language of mathematics. This is so because in the computer the employed symbols are of a different category. For example, an icon displayed on the screen looks quite different than a mathematical equation. Nevertheless, if selected, the icon activates some actions in the computer which can be fully formally described, that is, it is possible to assign a mathematical function to these actions. The icon is, then, a formal symbol representing such a function. Another difference stems from the fact that the computer permits viewing the results of many of the applied functions (or commands).

Therefore, programming or using a computer through some application software, issuing its commands, consists of strictly mathematical activities, requiring an abstract reasoning similar to that required for doing calculations or theorem proving. Thus, programming a computer or issuing commands to some software require the same degree of (full) consciousness and of abstraction as any mathematical activity. (Notice that we are not speaking here of such actions as just typing a text, without using any text editor command as for instance text indentation.) This is not the case with machines that are not computers and have to be continuously controlled by the user. In general they require a certain automatic, subconscious motor coordination. For instance, a person has only learned how to ride a bicycle after not being necessary anymore to think on and to be conscious of the actions to be performed and how to maintain equilibrium.

To cover the specific problem of computers in art, we have now to characterize what we understand by "work of art." As computers probably represent the utmost in technological achievement of scientific and mathematical reasoning incorporated into a machine, it seems convenient to follow F.Bacon, Descartes, Newton and many others, and characterize art comparing it with science.

3. Art and science

To begin with, we have to state that we are going to restrict ourselves only to human creations. This caution is necessary because many thinkers have considered nature as an artist. Plato did this distinction in "The Sophist"[11]:

(Stranger speaks) "Let me suppose, then, that things which are said to be made by nature are the work of divine art, and that things which are made by man out of these are work of human art."

In fact, we like to say "nature is an artist, not a scientist" to explain why people prefer living in a street with trees. Each tree may be regarded as a work of art made by nature, producing in ourselves an esthetic sense which is absent from a scientific work. It happens that nature's works of art lack individuality. Every plant of the same species in a certain geographic region have a similar shape (albeit never identical). All the beautiful webs made by spiders of the same species follow the same patterns, determined by the rigid "program" followed by the animal, albeit differing in some details.

Maybe the human body is the only work of art found in nature with individuality not derived solely from certain genetic combinations and environmental influences. This may be seen in the physiognomic expressions, which varies with age and reveals part of the personality and temperament. Thus one may conjecture that the human being is not a purely natural being, as minerals, plants and animals may be classified. In fact, when our far ancestors made their cave paintings, the first works of art which remained up to our times, they were showing that, having a creative, artistic mind they were not totally natural anymore - maybe they had never been! Perhaps that is one of the main difficulties in determining the natural origins of the human being...

Contrary to nature's art, each humane work of art should have an individual characteristic. For example, our house is certainly different from all other in the world, because my wife and I asked our architect for a project which should not follow the usual rectangular box shape of wood, bricks and concrete. His artistic creation was original and individual.

Besides the need to express an individual aspect of its creator, the work of art must have a fundamental characteristic, which distinguishes it from scientific works. Following Goethe [20], we formulated the following characterization:

Science is the idea turned into concept; art is the idea turned into object.

This means that both have the same origin, but one is expressed through abstractions, and is grasped by means of our thinking, and the other is made concrete through something that may be observed with our senses. This is clear in the more "physical" arts - according to R.Steiner [19], architecture, sculpture and garments (in those peoples where they are still an expression of mood). Nevertheless, it may also be recognized in more spiritual arts, like music (sounds are physical elements) and poetry (it also depends on hearing - even if just innerly- the sounds and rhythms of the words).

Obviously, we are making here a fundamental distinction between science and technology. Machines and instruments are concrete, but the science which exists behind them constitutes a purely conceptual framework.

Thus, art and science complement each other. According to Steiner, "Goethe's saying that art is a kind of knowledge is true, because all other forms of knowledge, taken together, do not constitute a complete world knowledge. Art - creativity - must be added to what is known abstractly if we are to attain to world knowledge." He cites Goethe as having said "Art is a manifestation of secret laws of nature which, without it, would remain forever hidden." [19]

It is a great tragedy of humanity that practically just science and the abstract, scientific kind of thinking are being cherished nowadays. It suffices to examine which type of education children and young people are receiving nowadays in the whole world, to observe that artistic education is minimal - if present at all - in comparison with scientific education. But it seems that this is not a new situation: Steiner, in the beginning of the 20th century regrets the fact that scientists formulated education, and teachers had to have a scientific attitude in class [17, lecture of Sept. 15].

Students are educated just to exercise abstract, formal reasoning and not also an "intuitive" thinking as practiced during artistic activities. (We will return to teaching art later on.) This way humanity is being condemned to having an undue unilateral view of the world, an inhumane view, because this is the type of science made in our times. It is possible to observe how capital and power have subordinated and desecrated science through the emphasis on technology, so science has deviated to a large extent from its higher goal of acquiring knowledge. Maybe all disasters caused by technology can be traced to the inhumanity of the present scientific activity, which regards living beings in the same way as it regards objects. It employs with the former a method that should be valid only in the lifeless realm - and even here it has dubious results in terms of knowledge. In a broader perspective, perhaps the present economic disasters in the whole world could be traced to handling social questions with scientific thoughts, without the simultaneous use of an "artistic thinking" which, we believe, is essential to deal with any of those questions, as we will see in chapter 7.

Our phrase along Goethe's line reveals another fundamental point: the object of a "true" art should express an idea, that is, a spiritual reality, and not be a mere casual combination of random elements. Maybe this is the spiritual reality referred to by Wassily Kandinsky in the third part of what he called as "Inner Need," which characterizes artistic creation, producing a "truly pure art [which serves the] divinity" (our translation). According to him, "Every artist, as a server of art, should express in general what is proper of art (an element of pure and eternal art which is found in all human beings, in all peoples, at all times,... and which does not obey, as an essential element of art, any laws of space and time)." And, later on, "the predominance of the third element in a work is what constitutes the indicator of the work's and the artist's greatness." [8]

It is obvious that the painting of a landscape, a portrait or a dead nature expresses a reality, even under the form of our sensations, as in Impressionism. On the other hand, we think that Expressionism in painting had the intention of expressing something which exists in the inside (of a person, for example) but is invisible, as e.g. an emotional state. Perhaps J.S.Bach's music is felt by so many people as a particularly special one, because of the fact that it may be the closest one to that archetypal non-physical reality which the Greeks called the "Music of the Spheres." From Bach on, music becomes more and more an expression of an individual, "earthly" creation. We are not forgetting Bach's capacity for abstract and technical creativity - see his "tempered" scale system. But we cannot consider that his music was all calculated - as some people would like it to have happened -, because he would not have enough time for it. Let us not forget his saying that his music was "inspired."

One of the fundamental characterizations of works of art, in opposition to technical ones, is the fact that the latter follow formally defined rules. Obviously, there exist rules in art - after all, the making of any object has to follow rules imposed by the physical nature of its material. Nevertheless, these rules should not be subjected to formal definitions. Kant wrote in The Critique of Judgment, Part I, ("Critique of Esthetic Judgment"): "... every art presupposes rules which are laid down as the foundation which first enables a product, if it is to be called one of art, to be represented as possible." And, later on, "Fine art is only possible as a product of genius... a talent for producing that for which no definite rule can be given." [9]

This (at least partial) non-definition of the rules followed in the making of an object of art is what permits intuition (this inner ability which escapes a scientific characterization... thoughts coming from nowhere?) manifesting itself without rules which may be conceptualized, formalized. Intuition should be present in scientific as well as in artistic creation. Nevertheless, in the former it is manifested through formal rules, and in the latter there must be an informal element, impossible to be exactly described. This element comes from the physical interaction of the artist with his material. We should remember that in the case of music and poetry, the material is the sound. In the case of a novel, the author introduces a description of possible physical objects, such as landscapes and persons, producing in the reader an inner representation (Vorstellung). This image is based upon the latter's sensory experiences.

Note the use by Kant of the word "genius," attributed to "nature inside the individual," which we may interpret as a manifestation of the artist's individuality. In Plato (Ion) we also find a reference to the genius, because he describes art as a product of divine inspiration grasped by the human being [11]. But, in this case, the spiritual "genius" was not inside the person, and was not "natural" as in Kant's materialism, but inspired her from without. Let us recall that Homer always invoked the Muse to inspire him to write his two great works: "Sing, O Godess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans." and "Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy." [7] That is, the old Greek did not have the inner perception that every person has nowadays, of producing her own thoughts; these were felt as being instilled by the divinity. Steiner wrote about Homer [19]: "Epic poetry points to the upper gods, those considered female because they transmitted fructifying forces: the Muses." Next, speaking about the evolution of theater from Aeschilus to Euripides: "Only gradually, in Greece, as man's connection with the spiritual fell into oblivion, did the divine action depicted on the stage turn into purely human action." Nevertheless, it would take centuries until human thinking became truly independent. The difficulty in adopting the heliocentric model, which contradicts the sensory perception (the sun and stars apparently moving on the sky), showed how long the capacity for objective abstraction took to be acquired.

Speaking about rules, another characteristic, which we find in arts, is that some of the rules they follow are fairly rigid and, to a large extent, already present in the object's matter and in eventual employed instruments. On the other hand, in theoretical science they are largely determined by its creator. In fact, a mathematical theory is a totally open field, from the axioms to the extension of the theorems that are drawn. This lack of limits is an obvious consequence of the fact that Mathematics is a pure mental creation, having no physical constraints. A physical theory may have a large working space because it is an abstract model. For instance, it is possible to imagine elements without classical limit, that is, which do not correspond to our sensorial experience, as the case of the electron's spin or the probability waves of quantum mechanics. Even physical experiments may have a large working space - it seems to us that particle accelerators change the conditions of matter, producing manifestations that eventually do not exist in normal states. Compare these situations with the working space of a pianist, whose percussion instrument is extremely limited in the production of each sound, compared to other instruments where the sound is largely created by the performer, and may vary in tuning and tone quality. Nevertheless, what works of art and what sensitivity may be transmitted by a master in the touché! It is exactly the manifestation of freedom in a limited space that reveals the great artist. Along this line, it would be interesting to meditate on Goethe's poem which we transcribe and (badly) translate in the Appendix.

The informal and intuitive element in art leads us to say that in artistic creation there must be an unconscious element, which cannot be made totally conscious. On the other hand, scientific creation must be expounded through clear, universal, non-temporal thoughts, that is, those that are independent of the observer's particular interpretation. They may even be formal, mathematical up to a certain point (depending of the area). Now imagine a description of the Isenheim Altar (at the Museum of Unterlinden, in Colmar) [21] through abstract pixels and RGB (red/green/blue) intensities from 0 to 255, as in video displays, or through their wavelengths : it would completely lose its esthetic sense and would not produce the inner reaction aroused in the observer by colors, forms and motifs. That is, it would not have the therapeutic effect for which Gruenewald created it. We insist that also in observing there must be an individual element, which must be absent in the case of science (we are not considering here uncertainty effects, which have nothing to do with individuality).

The emotional element was stressed by Freud, for whom art is emotion or subconscious expression, and not imitation or communication (in his typical unilateral reasoning of a theory of sublimation of emotion and desire through art - see for instance the end of his Lecture 23 in "General Introduction to Psycho-analysis" [4]. Comparing with Kandinsky's way of regarding art as a communication of a spiritual reality, it is possible to see well the contrast between materialism and spiritualism; in the latter, there is something of a higher, non-physical nature (Goethe's "idea") to be communicated.

It is interesting to insist that the idea expressed through an object is objective, but the necessary sensation and emotion aroused by the object is subjective. For example, when hearing a major third followed by a minor third or a seventh followed by an octave. We are sure that everybody will have different sensations in each case, which become clear through the contrast between each interval and the next one. But probably almost every person will say that the minor third is "sadder" and the seventh produces a tension that is alleviated by the octave. Everyone feels these emotions differently, but there is clearly something universal behind them, as the sensations felt by colors: lemon yellow seems joyful, radiating, opening itself, and Prussian blue seems sad, introspective, closing in itself. Kandinsky says [8]: "The pure and eternal art element... is the objective element which becomes comprehensible with the help of the subjective."

We also consider as an essential distinction between a work of art and a work of science the fact that the former should always have temporal and spatial contexts connected to its creation. In contrast, a scientific theory does not depend on time, as long as it is consistent and eventually correspond to observations. A simple example is the concept of a circle, as for instance the geometric locus of all points equidistant from a given point. This formal definition does not depend on the conditions of its discoverer, it is impersonal and eternal. Nobody has seen such a perfect circle; it exists only as an idea, and it is the same for everyone that understands it; note that "point" is also a pure abstraction. The fact that we are able to grasp it and similar mathematical ones with our thinking lead Aristotle to the conjecture, drawn through a purely logical reasoning, precursor of our modern way of thinking, that we must have something also eternal in ourselves. His teacher Plato would have never been able to draw such an "earthly" logical conclusion; for him the eternal in humans was a matter of observation and not of reasoning, because he was an initiate in the old mysteries. For an expressive representation of these gigantic figures of our evolution, artistically showing some of their differences in attitude, see the beautiful "The School of Athens," by Rafael [1].

The spatial-temporal dependency of artistic creation, allied to the artist's individual, subconscious expression leads to the emergence of unexpected elements during the process of creation. The artist should observe his work during this process, to influence it and reach something that she could not have initially foreseen. This may be a purely inner process, as in the case of a composer who does not have to hear the sounds of his composition; nevertheless, the real auditory sensation is not the same as an imagined one. It could be argued that scientific research also has unexpected results. This may even occur with Mathematics: a theorem may be conjectured without knowledge on how to prove it (a recent example was the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, formulated in the 17th century). A big difference lies is the fact that the result is, as we have already said, on the one side a concept, and on the other an object. Moreover, once a scientific concept is established, every time the experiment or the correct theory is redone the result should be the same (obviously, under experimental approximations). In the case of artistic creation, re-making the object of art should always produce a change. Observing his previous creation, the artist will always have other inspirations (recall Freud's phrase that simple imitation is not a work of art). We like to call this factor "dynamics of artistic creation."

Summing up, art in our opinion should be expressed through physical objects (including sound) or the imagination thereof (as with a romance); should express an idea, which is a non-physical reality; should not be subjected to full creation or description using only purely formal elements; should always contain a subconscious element; should have an individual character connected to its creator and to the observer; should permit a certain freedom within informal rules imposed by the employed material and by the artist's action; should involve the artist's and observer's emotions; should contain temporal and regional contexts connected to its creation and observation; its re-creation should be dynamic, and the creation process should have unexpected elements.

Before we express our opinion in relation to the use of computers in art, it will be necessary to examine how they may be used in artistic activities.

4. The use of computers in art

There are three ways of using computers in art: as storage devices, as passive instruments of artistic creation, and as active instruments in the generation of images, sounds, etc.

In the first category, they are not used in an essentially different manner than other storage devices, such as books and tapes. The only difference to books lies in the fact that the latter are physical means, and not virtual. Thus, through books the reader has a completely different touch and visual contact, than with a text stored in a computer and examined through a screen. There are many anecdotes of people who were attracted by certain volumes in a library or bookstore, which became important in their lives. Or, while browsing through the pages of a book, were unconsciously attracted to reading something that turned to be very important for them. We doubt that computers may cause this intuitive connection in the same degree as the contact with a real, non-virtual object. While producing this paper, we kept printing the various versions, because the printed text permits an overview that we miss when using a text editor. Aside from these disadvantages, it is possible to mention a number of advantages in virtual storage: automatic search, efficiency in storage, copy and transmission, etc.

The second way of employing computers in art is their use as passive instruments. A popular example of this is the use of graphic programs such as CorelDRAW. Here we have to make two fundamental considerations. The first deals with the fact that the use of physical materials - in this case, brushes, colors and the paper or canvas -, provides an unconscious activity. As we saw in the previous chapter, it is not possible to exactly foresee what the result of an artistic creation will be. In painting, it is not possible to calculate the blend of colors, and only through the act of putting them on paper or canvas it is possible to see their effect and they will change after the paint dries out. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to repeat a blend, unless rigorous industrialized colors are used and the combinations are measured with scientific (and not artistic!) precision. The pressure exercised on the brush, influencing the results, cannot be precisely determined. The paper or canvas and their degree of absorption are also important factors; moreover, a wet paint looks stronger than it will look when dry.

These imponderable factors do not exist to the same extent in some drawing software. Colors (or, better, their optical illusion) are in general (e.g. in CRT screens) determined by a practically punctual projection of three basic colors (red, blue and green which, by the way, do not work as basic colors in blending inks, which Goethe called "chemical colors"). It is possible to determine and reproduce exactly their combination, because the intensity of each is expressed through a numeric scale from 0 through 255 - what an impoverishment! It is obvious that the sensation a color produces in the artist is not formal. But here what matters is the type of activity which he has to exercise: in the case of computer colors, the choice is fairly formal and conscious.

We enjoy painting watercolors, of the type "wet-on-wet." In this activity, one of the most extraordinary feelings is to produce a uniform color transition between two hues, for instance from orange to red, or from yellow to red. It is necessary to spread both on paper, at some distance, and gently pass the brush dozens of times, wetting it on ink from time to time, eventually in a couple of intermediate hues, in order to obtain a reasonably uniform transition. Compare this deep, calm personal experience with the use of a drawing program: here, it suffices to select the regions with the original colors, activate a hypothetical "color transition" icon, and immediately the desired effect is obtained. The artist's whole process, searching for a long time a satisfactory result, for instance eliminating eventual stripes which tend to appear, her interaction with the material, her joy or suffering through the procedure and, most important of all, her self-development through it have been diminished, if not totally subtracted. Moreover, a "painting" made with a machine lacks all the nuances which are found in hand-made objects, that is, there is an impoverishment of the action and of the representation (recall what we said in section 2).

The second consideration has to do with the fact that computers are mathematical, abstract machines, as we saw in section 2. Every command given by the user of a graphical program is formal, and its execution by the machine may be described through a mathematical function. That is, the user is forced to think in a formal way when using these commands - note that iconic languages are also formal languages. Again, compare with the use of a brush, where the motor activity is unconscious; trying to make body movements in a fully conscious way lead to paralysis. For example, imagine a pianist thinking on each finger, hand, arm and muscle he is supposed to employ for each note - he would not be able to play (similarly to beginners, who have not automated yet their finger movements).

In traditional ways of making art, there is a very strong connection between the artist and the medium. A brush or a musical instrument are extensions of the artist's body, and his hands (and eventually mouth) directly touch the material. In "real" theater (there is recent research on "computer theater," where a computer detects the actors' movements and regulates lighting or sound, a large screen may depict virtual characters which the actor may interact with, etc.) the actor has direct connections with his peers, the scenery and the public. It seems to us that the computer eliminates to a large extent this intimate connection of the artist with the work he is producing. The machine ends up producing a large part of it, if not its entirety, without the artist's intervention.

Thus, the use of computers as passive instruments require formalizing the artistic activity and making it conscious, losing the physical contact with the instrument and the object being created.

The third form of using a computer in art is to make a program to generate images or sound (perhaps in the future even to produce a sculpture or build a house). A known example are the drawings produced by fractal functions; programs that produce drawings with these functions are in the market. In this case, there is not just the replacement of an informal instrument by another, formal; the process of creation is totally formal. The creation has to be strictly expressed in a mathematical way, as it is the case with any program. Thus, the unconscious element is fully eliminated. The individual element is also eliminated, in the sense that everyone may completely understand how the work was produced - it suffices to examine the program in detail. The temporal and spatial elements connected to the creation are also eliminated. In other words, the artistic activity has become a scientific activity. The result, contrary to normal scientific activities, are not concepts, and the final result has to have an esthetic effect, but the activity is certainly not an artistic one, as characterized above, and follows usual scientific methods.

A propos, it is very important to understand what it means to make a program to produce a work of "art" following a certain style. A computer may produce drawings and music similar to those of Mondrian or J.S.Bach, but their styles must be present beforehand. Then these styles may be analyzed, roughly expressed through purely formal elements and programmed in a computer to generate something apparently similar. Without Bach, there would be no programs imitating his music. Moreover, according to what we said before, the creation by a computer does not express any idea besides that contained in the style - as long as this style is mathematically expressed. This process also represents an impoverishment.

It is also necessary to consider that, as we have said, the true artistic creation should be reasonably unpredictable, depending on the interaction between the author and his work during the act of creation. The result produced by the computer is always predictable. The eventual use of pseudo-random number generators does not eliminate predictability, because what the program does with each generated number is always predictable, having been designed by the programmer.

5. Judgment

As a device to store works of art, the computer presents some advantages, mainly to people who prefer "canned" music instead of life concerts, paint reproductions in books instead of the originals, movies instead of theater. Obviously, it may be useful in a remote access to representations or descriptions of works of art for which some person has no direct access.

In the second mode, we have shown that there is an impoverishment of the activities connected to the artistic creation. Moreover, recalling the characterizations we gave of artistic creation at the end of chapter 3, the result is virtual and not concrete as in various artistic activities (or, if turned concrete - e.g. a printed version on paper - it was not produced directly by the author, but by the machine; in this sense we have here a problem in common with photography and cinema). It is only partially created by the artist and may be totally described though purely formal elements (because it is stored under the form of data). Purely formal, abstract rules are (partially) used in its construction (through the software commands), restricting the author's freedom to a mathematically well-defined space. Finally, there is no unpredictability in a part of the result - because it is the outcome of pre-programmed actions performed by the machine (activated through software commands).

We have also shown that in the third mode, the computer is used as an active instrument generating images or sound (and even "poetry," which should be the most spiritual art, and thus preserved for humans) by a program built for this purpose. In this case we have a scientific, abstract activity, and not an artistic one. Furthermore, this mode departs almost completely from the characterizations we gave to artistic creation, as it may be easily verified.

Thus, it is possible to say that, according to our concepts, only the first mode of using computers in art - as storage devices - is a valid one from the artistic point of view. In the other two forms, the use of a computer has precisely the opposite effect to that desired by artistic activity. Thus, instead of giving more freedom to creation computers impoverish artistic activity, turning it partially or totally into an abstract activity. The result also lacks the fine nuances which are produced by hand or mouth. As we said in the introduction, it does not seem strange that computers have been used as instruments of art. Instead of making art return to more humane and finer forms, expressing the highest spiritual realities, we are making it more abstract, rough and formal, without letting it fulfill the requisites we introduced as being essential to characterize a work of art. On the contrary, we are reducing it to the sub-natural level of machines.

Another point is the fact that computers alienate the artist from her instruments. Traditional art tools, such as brushes and musical instruments are simple and their functioning may be totally experienced and understood. On the other hand, the computer will always be a mysterious, non-understandable tool, avoiding the intimate and concrete integration of the artist with the means he is employing. This seems to us an essential factor in artistic creation.

Thus, we consider the computer, as a passive or active tool for artistic creation, not an instrument of art, but of counter-art.

As we wrote in a paper published in 1976 in a conference of the S.Paulo State Academy of Sciences [13], computers constitute the ideal instruments for the propagation of scientism, that is, the use of science as a religion, the faith that science will solve everyone of humanity's problems, that only specialists understand something about the world, etc. This is one of the main reasons for pushing the use of computers as art instruments. Computers assign to everything an aspect of modernism and of scientific research (on the way, the phrase "garbage in, garbage out" is forgotten), validating any research without much intrinsic value. Laymen wonder with results full of "visual cosmetics" but with little contents. They don't notice that the generation of art with a computer has been based upon abstract thoughts, and not upon artistic intuition and creativity. It is the kingdom of de-humanizing and superficiality.

Another tendency which may explain the use of computers in artistic creation is the consumer's surrender to misleading advertisements made by computer and software producers. The number of these machines in enterprises is much smaller than their potential number at homes. As very few people would like to organize themselves to the point of installing a database e.g. with their kitchen recipes, computer and software producers appeal to applications for leisure activities (in our case, artistic ones) and for education.

This leads us to covering briefly one of our preferred subjects: the use of computers in education, here under the point of view of artistic education.

6. The computer and artistic education

The biggest fault of education in all levels is, in our opinion, the fact that it is excessively abstract. Instead of putting the child or young person in contact with reality and fantasy, which could attract her, everything is presented under the monotonous form of intellectual abstraction. For example, in our country the standard way of teaching what an island is, is to give the following abstract definition: "An island is a piece of land surrounded by water from all sides," which is taught at about age 8. This is a totally dead definition. Furthermore, it is wrong: there is no water on the top and bottom sides; if the island has a round shape, considering its periphery there are topologically two sides: the inside and the outside. What could be an adequate manner of introducing islands to 8-year old children, full of life and arousing fantasy? One could, for instance, tell the story of a person who was in a boat which sank, and she swam until she reached a beach. She took a nap, ate some fruits that were growing there, and decided to walk home. But every way she took she got to another beach or rocks facing the sea, etc. During this account, the teacher could draw with colored chalk an artistic representation of the island, with trees, birds, stones, beaches, and so on. She could use a large bowl and build an island with sand or clay, and little pieces of plants, letting the children create all sorts of small figures. With all this, through a teaching full of art and imagination, it is possible to create in the child a live inner image of an island.

Every definition is a pure abstraction and "kills" the object being defined. Paraphrasing Steiner [19], we could say that teaching through abstractions shows a "dead image of life." With this, children's imagination and creativity are killed. Every child is a born artist, but TV, video games, the use of computers and early intellectualization castrate her artistic capacities at home and in the school.

The computer has introduced still further abstractions in teaching, forcing the child to adopt intellectual attitudes typical of adults. As Neil Postman used for the title of one of his excellent books [12], we have here "the disappearance of childhood".

Nowadays, teaching is clearly directed mainly to the acquisition of scientific information and intellectual abilities. We find this a tragedy because, as we said in chapter 3, students are not being educated also to an artistic view of the world. As we said, this a complementary view in relation to the necessary scientific view. But we think it is absolutely essential for the development of sensitivity, including social sensitivity, and for a healthy evolution of mankind.

The computer has worsened this situation, because there has been no change on the mentality of educators. They also want to be modern, and in general must have quite a scientificist mentality, otherwise they would not use an idiotic and wrong definition of island. (Fortunately, they don't define what a tree is: "a piece of wood stuck at 90 degrees in the soil, with ramifications, blah blah...". Yet, despite being given no definition of a tree, children develop a correct concept of tree through direct experiment and observation.") They would not assign grades to their students, handling them as mere abstractions or, at best, "walking heads." In Brazil, there is a certain huge "educational industry," whose motto is "The Best Brains" (in Portuguese, literally "heads", which is a slang for "brains"), as if the poor children don't have feelings and volition, and not even other physical parts... Moreover, the clear reference is to scientific thinking, that is, devoid of life. It is quite symptomatic that their logo is a head drawn with clearly visible pixels (small squares of the same color).

Talking about grading systems, what does it mean flunking an 8-year old child? She made no adult-like effort? Was not responsible like an adult? Does not know in a uniform way every taught subject, as she would be an information storing device, independently of the fact that the information is interesting or not? If there had been a change in mentality, and teaching had become more humane, elementary-school teachers should be the first to reject the use of computers in education. The same old mentality is the one that leads a bad educator to assign a grade totally devoid of real sense. For instance, what does it mean in our country a grade 5 - in a scale from 0 to 10, the minimum grade for approval -, the knowledge of "half" the subjects asked in the tests, or the knowledge of "half" the contents of each subject? Grades quantify something which is not quantifiable, such as knowledge, interest, effort and ability, including the mental one. This mentality, which handles students as abstractions and not as human beings and regards education as a science instead of an art, is obviously what makes those that call themselves educators to employ computers in education.

From the point of view of artistic education, the result seems obvious to us: it is a further attack for the elimination of children's and youth's artistic creativity and sensitivity. Instead of educating for the nuances of a brush, with which one should teach the child to caress a paper, the rough moving of a "mouse" is taught, producing a brutalization of touch (and visual) sensitivities, as well as of motor coordination, directed to an infinitely poorer movement in comparison with the tender handling of a brush. Instead of creating colors, mixing basic ones such as red, yellow and blue, the child is forced to make a logical choice among a virtual palette, or even combining 3 numbers as we showed before. It would be interesting to imagine an inverse Turing test [13]: a computer would distinguish a human from another computer? It seems to us that it would not, because when using a computer a human is forced to think like a machine...

These criticisms in relation to education do not stem from mere theories. They are based upon our practical and theoretical knowledge of Waldorf Education [2, 3], where there are no grading systems, there is no flunking and elementary and high school teaching, even in scientific subjects, is impregnated with art. We strongly recommend visiting a Waldorf School (there are more than 100 in North America) to verify what we are saying here - reality says much more than an intellectual description! We are sure that our readers will have the impression that Waldorf schools form artists. The truth is that their graduates are just normal people: classical schooling is the wrong system, eliminating artistic creativity and not developing artistic ability. An interesting source of information on Waldorf Education is an electronic list dedicated to it (information with its moderator Dick Oliver <cedar>).

We have expressed our opinion that we are against the use of computers in elementary education. In [14, 16] we expound why we have this opinion and make a proposal for the use of computers to teach in high school what computers are and how they and the Internet can be used. There we use Steiner's developmental concepts, employed in every Waldorf school in the world, to conclude that the logical-symbolic abstract thinking forced by computers in any application is damaging to children and young people before they are about 16-17 years old. The considerations we are making in this essay complement what we said there. Instead of introducing art in every subject, making it less abstract, more imaginative and more creative, schools are introducing computers, with the opposite effects. Added to the use of computers by children and youth at home, the resulting picture seems to us as a big tragedy. We fear that, besides subtracting from children part of their necessary childhood, computers may induce a mentality in those naive souls that machines are more powerful and perfect than humans, and that the latter are just imperfect machines. It seems to us that Nazism and Stalinism treated humans like animals. What is going to happen if the new generations will treat humans as machines? It took quite a long time to become clear that TV is highly pernicious to children and youth (we have been talking against it since the middle sixties); how long is it going to take with computers?

7. Conclusions

In this essay we started from phenomenological observations of computers and their use as instruments of art. We believe that this approach is absolutely essential in our days. For example, if TV would be investigated under this method, one would reach the conclusion that programs are the way they are because of a necessity originating in the apparatus and the external and mental passivity it forces upon the viewer, that is, one should not expect an improvement of programs and of the ill effects of TV [10]. With that approach, we saw that computers force a kind of abstract thinking typical of scientific, but not of artistic activity. Thus, when used in art in any application other than simple storage of texts, figures or sound (eventually with some processing of their form but not of content), the computer has a tendency of distorting the artistic activity and expression. In some cases it is not even possible to call the result as being "art," because it is due to a conceptual scientific activity. Nevertheless, even if they are used in art as instruments for simply storing and communicating, it is necessary to pay attention to the great danger of computers creating an illusion that the "virtual reality" (could there be a more inconsistent expression?) which they present is "better" than observing the "real reality" of the work of art. We regard this illusion as a sign of an impoverished artistic sensitivity.

We have also seen that the education for scientific reasoning and activity typical of our times should be urgently compensated with intensive artistic education, which Waldorf Education has been doing since 1919 [2, 3]. This is due in great part to the fact that artistic and scientific approaches to knowledge are complementary, revealing different real and essential aspects of the world.

Nevertheless, we believe that to these two educational aspects, which we consider as constituting polarities (corresponding to acting and thinking, respectively), should be added a third, intermediary one, which we have developed quite recently and which correspond to the realm of feelings. We make here a brief exposition of this activity, which we call Social Education. It has three aspects: educating for social interest and sensitivity, for the capacity to feel compassion and "comjoy", and for social responsibility and actions.

Social sensitivity is the capacity to perceive the needs and abilities of other human beings. It is intimately connected to social interest on other people. Compassion and "comjoy" are the capacities of feeling the suffering and joy of other persons. Social responsibility and action have to do with the impulse of acting in a social way for the benefit of other people, and the actions originating thereof. We call these three capacities Social Abilities.

These three groups of social abilities are composed, each one, by a pair of polarities. The first element of each pair corresponds to a gesture towards the inside of the person, and the other to a gesture towards the outside. Thus, social sensitivity is a kind of perception, that is, something existing in the outside is absorbed to the inside. Social interest requires an opening to the outside. Suffering is a feeling leading a person to close herself, to contraction, and having joy leads to opening and expansion, irradiating some feelings. In general, people prefer to share their joys than their sufferings. Finally, social responsibility is an inner feeling, and action is something done to the outside.

Artistic education leads a person to having an esthetic interest for everything that is her outside. It also leads to artistic sensitivity. We find it essential for the development of social interest and sensitivity. Scientific and technical mentality have been damaging these two abilities. As they are a prerequisite to the other two groups, we assign a high importance to this education, which should be provided not just in schools, but also at home.

However, we think that just artistic sensitivity is not enough to develop those social abilities. A classical example was Hitler, who had a certain artistic sensitivity, albeit imbued of his typical unilateral view of the universe and of his authoritarianism. The latter lead to his fight against expressionism, which he called "entartete Kunst," degenerated art. He also had a great degree of social sensitivity, because he knew how to direct himself to the German people and carry them hypnotically. But what he certainly did not have was compassion, otherwise he would have not sacrificed dozens of millions of people. He also lacked social responsibility, as it was demonstrated by the fact that he took actions to destroy Germany and its people when he perceived that they were not able to win the war, and thus were not the superior "race" which he had imagined [6].

We are not going to expound here our proposals for educating and self-educating the two last groups of social abilities, apart from artistic education, because it would take us far from the main scope of this essay. What is important to our theme is that when used in education or self- education, computers produce precisely the opposite desired effect of artistic and social education. Collective and individual misery, in broad senses, have been progressively increasing in the world. It seems to us that only social education may form the future adults who will be interested on the social problem, placing it above their egotism, which we consider to be one of the basic sources of most of our evils. After all, social problems are not just simple technological or economical problems - they are very complex humane problems. These problems will not be solved by machines, and even less by computers. On the contrary, without a change in mentality on their use, machines will only worsen the present situation of worldwide social affliction. As we have shown, this change in mentality passes necessarily through artistic education and self-education, but without computers.

Let us insist that this change in mentality should cover an absolutely essential point. The unilateral rationalism introduced by Descartes should be enriched with the exercising of emotions, mainly of human warmth - why not be clear, by unselfish love, which is the synthesis of the three social abilities. For this, thinking should be enriched with feelings, so that the view we have of the world and of humanity becomes more humane and less machine-like, and decisions cease to be taken in a cold, inhumane, purely scientific-technological way. It is precisely art that can help us develop this new way of thinking, a non-formal, non- mechanical thinking enriched with feelings, a "live thinking."

Computers, being abstract machines, have contributed to the increase of cold rationalism, this fruit of a "dead thinking." Artistic activity done with them remains to a great extent in the realm of rationalism (and reductionism!), but without them and if done in a humane way it may be a path for holism, for a balance between the brain of abstractions and the heart of emotions, and for the development of a live thinking. Note that we are not advocating the predominance of emotions, but a balance between them and reason. Associated with the social abilities we have described, artistic activities may be an essential factor for reverting the present trend of increasing individual and social miseries in the whole world. A task which science and technology alone cannot accomplish - on the contrary, the recent past has shown that, left to themselves, and practiced without art and the described social abilities, they tend to worsen the situation. We hope that the development of artistic sensitivity and social abilities will be an essential step to putting technology in its right place - the service of mankind and not its destruction.


[1] Campos, D.R. de. Raphael in the Stanze. Trans. J. Guthrie. Milano: Aldo Martello, 1973.
[2] Fenner, P.J. and K.L.Rivers. Waldorf Education - a Family Guide. Amesbury, MA: Michaelmas Press, 1995.
[3] Finser, T.M. School as a Journey: the Eight-Year Odyssey of a Waldorf Teacher and His Class. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1994.
[4] Freud, S. The Major Works of Sigmund Freund. Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 42. Tranls. J. Riviere. Chicago: Encyclpaedia Britannica, 1952.
[5] Goethe, J.W. Sämtliche Werke in vierzig Bänden (complete works in 40 volumes). Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta'scher Verlag, 1840.
[6] Haffner, S. Anmerkungen zu Hitler. Frankfurt: Fischer, 1990.
[7] Homer. The Iliad of Homer. The Odyssey. Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 4. Transl. S. Buttler. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952.
[8] Kandinsky, W. On the Spiritual in Art. In K.C.Lindsay and P.Vergo (eds.), Kandinsky's Complete Writings on Art. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994. Our citations are from Kandinsky, W. On the Spiritual in Art (in Portuguese). Transl. A.Cabral. São Paulo: Liv. Martins Ed, 1990.
[9] Kant, E. The Critique of Judgement. Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 42. Transl. J.C. Meredith. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952.
[10] Mander, J. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television., New York: Wm. Morrow 1978.
[11] Plato. The Dialogues of Plato. Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 7. Tranls. B. Jowett. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952.
[12] Postman, N. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Delacorte Press, 1982.
[13] Setzer, V.W. The computer as an instrument of scientism (in Portuguese). Proc. of the Annual Symposium of the São Paulo State Academy of Sciences, São Paulo 1976, pp. 69-88.
[14] Sezter, V.W. Computers in Education. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1989.
[15] Setzer, V.W. Data, information, knowledge and competency. Available in our web site.
[16] Setzer, V.W. and L.Monke. Computers in Education: Why, When, How. To appear in 2001 as a chapter of a book on computers and education edited by R.Mufolletto in the USA. Available on our web site.
[17] Steiner, R. Meditativ erarbeitete Menschenkunde (GA 302a), 4 lectures given in Stuttgart, Sept. 15-22, 1920. Basel: R.G.Zbinden, 1961.
[18] Steiner, R. The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (GA 4 - "Gesamtausgabe," complete works). Transl. R.Stebbing (a literal translation of the original title is "Philosophy of Freedom"). West Nyack, NY: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1963.
[19] Steiner, R. The Arts and their Mission (GA 276). 8 lectures held in Dornach and Kristiania (Oslo), 1923, transl. L.D.Monges and V.Moore. New York: Anthroposophic Press, Inc., 1964.
[20] Steiner, R. Goethean Science (GA 1). Transl. Wm. Lindeman. Spring Valley, N.Y: Mercury Press, 1988.
[21] Vaisse, P & P.Bianconi. Tout l'Oevre Peint de Grünewald. Paris: Flamarion, 1974.


Gesetz und Freiheit

Law and Freedom

Goethe [5]

Weimar/Jena, 1790-1805

Transl. by V.W.Setzer

Natur und Kunst, sie scheinen sich zu fliehen
Und haben sich, eh' man es denkt, gefunden;
Der Widerwille ist auch mir verschwunden,
Und beide scheinen mich anzuziehen

Nature and art seem to distance themselves
And before one thinks, have found each other
Repulsion has also disappeared to me
And both seem to attract me

Es gibt wohl nur ein redliches Bemühen!
Und wenn wir erst, in abgemessnen Stunden,
Mit Geist und Fleiss uns an die Kunst gebunden,
Mag frei Natur im herzen wieder glühen.

Only a sincere effort is possible!
And if, during some measured hours,
With spirit and application we connect ourselves to art,
Nature glows again freely in the heart.

So ist's mit aller Bildung auch beschaffen:
Vergebens werden ungebundne Geister
Nach der Vollendung reiner Höhe streben

So it happens with every education:
In vain spirits without bindings
Long for the perfection of pure heights

Wer Grosses will, muss sich zusammenraffen:
In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
Und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit schaffen.

Who wants grandiosity needs concentration:
In the limitation the master reveals herself,
And only law can create us freedom.