An introduction to data and information
An introduction to data and information

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An introduction to data and information

5.2 Art and the common computer

Art is difficult to define. But all art involves the Exercise of human skill. A natural object, such as a piece of driftwood, a flower, a bird song, can move us to admire it as beautiful or intriguing or comforting, but it isn't art. Artists (be they photographers, painters, sculptors, actors, musicians, authors or dancers) use their skill to transform natural objects, materials or signs (paint, clay, their own body or voice, the sounds of musical instrument, words) into something else: something with value in its own right rather than for the way in which it might be used.

And what, you may ask, do computers have to do with art?

Central to this course is the idea that a computer is essentially a tool. And because of the flexibility of programming, it is an exceedingly flexible tool. With the right sort of program and appropriate peripheral devices, a computer can be used by artists to produce art. This subsection will examine how computers can be used to produce visual art.

If you examine a photograph, a painting or a view out of your window carefully, you will notice that what you are looking at is, for the most part, incredibly complex. Colours vary across an almost infinite colour spectrum. There are apparent lines or edges, and objects within the view will be clearly or fuzzily defined depending upon lighting conditions and distance from the person viewing the scene.

Exercise 13

If you were asked to develop a coding system that enabled you to store the view from your window in the form of perceptual data in a computer, how do you think it would compare, in terms of complexity, with that of the DNA code?


DNA has a very simple code: just four values or letters. A scene such as the one I see out of my window at the moment is highly complex. It contains innumerable colours, light and shade, lines and edges, and visual depth, with objects nearby appearing focused and those further away progressively less distinct. So I would say that encoding this for use by a computer would require a complex code.

You may have a somewhat different answer, but your answer should have taken into account the complexity of virtually any scene.

Fortunately, applications for processing graphical data (even complex graphical data like photographs of scenes outside my window) take care of this complexity. They let the user work with such graphical data, not at the level of individual codes, but at higher levels of abstraction, such as deepening a colour's hue, altering the contrast, and so on.


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