Wait, what? Sense-making & sense-breaking in modern art

In a recent paper, my collaborator Tom Rutten and I advanced a tentative theory of how contemporary visual artworks might interact with a predictive error minimization (or “predictive processing“) system in human viewers. The predictive processing model of cognition is a relatively recent figuration of the age-old problem of inference (how humans make predictions from patterns and pull patterns from data), originating in the work of computational neuroscientists like Friston, Rao, and Ballard in the 1990s but prefigured by Jeurgen Schmidhuber, whose theory of cognitive “compression” has been covered previously on this site and its neighbors.

I haven’t yet tried summarizing the paper’s ideas in an informal way, or arguing (beyond Twitter) for its usefulness as a theory. Here, I advance that argument both modestly and boldly. Continue reading “Wait, what? Sense-making & sense-breaking in modern art”

How We Frame the Value of “Experimental” Art Badly

Gabe and I were talking about the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab the other day. For context: the HSEL is an experimental form of documentary-making. Each film places you, without narration, into some unfamiliar situation, about which you become educated, ideally, solely by the power of your own observations. It’s as much experimental anthropology as it is experimental art.

I’m not about to say that experimental art is inevitably shitty nonsense and shouldn’t exist. Experimental art should definitely exist. But the fact that it is experimental should not be grounds to claim that it is better than other art. In fact, I find the idea of expecting experimental art to be good or complete to be totally crippling of its possibilities. The point of an experiment is the potential for failure. Continue reading “How We Frame the Value of “Experimental” Art Badly”