Sunday, September 10, 2006

Communication and Art

Communication that relates information can be classified on a spectrum from "poetic" to "prosaic". On the prosaic end we have things like chemistry catalogs, stock prices, and math text books, while somewhere in the middle are novels and certain photography, and to the deep poetic end we have abstract expressionism, some dance traditions, and zen koans.

Prose is characterized by its explicitness. If we imagine human knowledge as a collection of nodes of information, and connections describing the relationships between them, prose is used to introduce new nodes.

Poetry is characterized by its implicitness. Instead of introducing information directly, it is used to induce indirectly. It comes in two forms: adaptive poetry and explorative poetry. Adaptive poetry makes use of analogy to carry relational information from one situation to another (music, and a lot of common poetry fits this category). Explorative poetry forces the listener to apprehend the meaning directly for themselves. Perhaps by making an observation of the external world, or more often through reflection (as with koans).

Under this description of communication, art can be seen as synonymous with poetry. There are two dimensions in which art can further be described: whether it is received as art, and whether it is created as art. This allows for three subcategories:

  • Created but not received as art: Failed Art — for example, elevator music (assumes the creator and receiver are not the same person)
  • Received but not created as art: Ironic Art — for example, rainbows, clouds, microscope slides viewed by an artist, possibly some archaeological artifacts
  • Created and received as art: Traditional Art — most paintings, written poetry, music, etc. (Distinguishing between the intended and received message would be counter productive.)


Jason LaPorte said...

I find describing programming languages on such a scale is beautiful as well.

On the prosaic end, you have imperative languages: C, Fortran, Java, machine code... anything and everything that's explicit, with varying levels of beauty in each.

LISP, even, is prosaic, though it's perhaps of the most elegant sort.

On the other hand of the spectrum, the poetic, you have Prolog, in which all of the computation is implied. Prolog, perhaps, isn't very beautiful to look at (like C or LISP in their own ways), but conceptually, it's gold.

Of course, most people don't believe programming is, itself, art. To them I say foo.

Kyle said...

Yes, that's exactly it. Lisp as "elegant" compared to C — ah, to define beauty, that's a topic for another post ;)

Jason LaPorte said...

I should caution you in your attempts: one should never chain beauty. :)