Author Archives: Mia Gao

Rethinking The Art Genome Project

Mia Gao

Abstract: The Art Genome Project is a classification system of the online art auction as well as education platform, Artsy. This paper critiques the design of The Art Genome Project in terms of its semiotics rationale and its affordances as an education as well as business tool. The analysis shows that The Art Genome Project fails to provide information to users efficiently and it is an inadequate imitation of real education or auction platforms.


The Art Genome Project is the search technology and classification system that powers Artsy, which is a website claims to “make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection as a resource for art collecting and education” (“About | Artsy,” 2015). The Art Genome Project maps the characteristics that connect artists, artworks, architecture, and design objects across history and will recommend artworks to users that share similar ‘genes’ with artworks they like (“About | Artsy,” 2015). The generative feature is an essence embedded in human meaning making process; however, The Art Genome Project lacks a visible classificatory referential, so all descriptive, emotional and art historical categories are rendered in a flat network, which made the Art Genome Project an irrational discourse of meaning making process and a poor imitation of museums.

Although promoted as an educational online art resource and has an ambitious mission to make art accessible to general public, Artsy’s business model is commission based. The Art Genome Program serves as an art dealer to potential buyers, it recommends artworks to buyers and connects them to sellers. However, Artsy’s affordances leave the audience an impression that the artworks they are recommended via Art Genome Project are not scarce.

Therefore, Art Genome Program is the backbone of Artsy but its designs made the website an incompetent education resource and an unprofessional online auction platform.

C. S. Peirce’s Model of Semiosis and The Art Genome Project Rationale

The Art Genome Project’s database is composed at present of more than 1000 characteristics or “genes” that range from subject matter (including conventional art history categories like portraiture as well as descriptive characteristics like “dark”) to art movement. Led by Carter Cleveland, computer science graduate from Princeton and son of art historian and collector David Cleveland and Sebastian Cwilich, former executive of Christie’s and Haunch of Venison director, Artsy recruited a team of art historians who spent years compiling the taxonomy (Miller, 2011). Notably, Artsy’s taxonomy is not function through binary tags. Artsy disclosed a main feature of their algorithm saying:

“Genes are applied with values ranging from 0 to 100. While not seen by users, such gene values account for the strength of a relationship between artists and artworks. It also enables similarity to be expressed in a more nuanced way than it might be with just tags because one can weigh various attributes of an artist or work of art to establish which might be the most or less important. Furthermore, such nuance allows for matching potential collectors with artworks based on their tastes and preferences” (Mufti, 2011).

The technical complexity and academic support allow Artsy’s recommendation engine to evaluate a artwork at a click and provide endless associations among different artists and artworks. In an attempt to describe the association between infinite characteristics , I will employ C. S. Peirce’s model of semiosis as an explanatory model for The Art Genome Project.

The model of semiosis as a cognitive-generative-social process was developed by C.S. Peirce from 1860s, but it is one, I would argue, that can be applied to varying degrees of any meaning making process. According to Peirce, “meaning is an open triadic process with one element of the structure, the interpretant, always unfolding new meaning.” We can apply two of Pierce’s major discoveries to further understand Art Genome Project:

1.  Human thought is based on signs in symbol systems which have a structure  of material/perceptible and cognitive relations that unfold dynamically in human-experienced time as shared cognitive processes.

2.  Meanings, learning, and knowledge are produced through symbolic-cognitive transformations (signs yielding interpretants expressible in further signs in unlimited and open-ended chains or networks) (Irvine, 2015).

Art Genome Project users’ understandings of the associations between different artists are based on their art history knowledge and interests and the dynamic associations can be expanded as an endless network. The symbolic-cognitive transformations enable users to associate or relate Egon Schiele’s Self Portrait with Raised Bared Shoulder, 1912 to “Close Up”, which is a conceptual component of Schiele’s painting.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 4.42.41 PM

“Egon Schiele | Self Portrait with Raised Bared Shoulder (1912) | Artsy.” N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Egon Schiele is known for his erotic and deeply psychological portraits, particularly self-portraits. Schiele’s Self Portrait depicts the artist himself half naked, looking cynically at the viewers making the portrait confrontational and intense. Starting from Self Portrait with Raised Bared Shoulder, 1912, the software generates and presents other “genetically” related artworks below the painting.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 11.00.39 AM “Egon Schiele | Self Portrait with Raised Bared Shoulder (1912) | Artsy.” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

By using “Close Up”, a descriptive characteristic, The Art Genome Project links Egon Schiele’s Self Portrait (1912) with  Lina Scheynius: Untitled (Diary), 2004.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 11.19.00 AM

“Lina Scheynius | Untitled (Diary) (2004), Available for Sale | Artsy.” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

Scheynius is a young Swedish photographer, noted for her raw and unabashed depiction of intimacy and sexuality. The signs embedded in Lina Scheynius’ photograph including “love”, which directs the chain to new “interpretamen”, such as Keith Haring’s Untitled, 1982.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 2.14.45 PM

Keith Haring is an American artist and social activist, whose works are great representations of “New York Street Art”. Haring directs the chain to “East Village Art”, which further leads to tremendous number of artists and artworks. Artsy listed American artists Jeff Koons (1955) in “East Village Art”, and the American Contemporary Pop Artist is connected to Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Jeff Koons is famous for his giant reproduction of ordinary objects such as enlarged balloon animals in stainless steel. Takashi Murakami, on the other hand, is a contemporary Japanese artist who marries traditional Japanese art with contemporary Otaku culture. The “gene” Koons shares with Murakami is “provocative”, which made Artsy recommend the Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who shares both the “Asian” and “provocative” genes with Murakami. The meaning chain starts from Egon Schiele opens an endless Pandora’s Box, which leads the Austrian Expressionist to a Chinese Conceptual artist.

Art Genome Project’s design shows the generative as well as open-ended features Peirce highlights in his Semiosis Model.

Three Phases of Interpretants and Artsy’s Flat Juxtaposition

The Art Genetic program seems provides a tangible model for natural human meaning-making process. However, Peirce emphasizes human symbolic cognitive process is a generative thus not standard model. The characteristics one associates with an artwork highly rely on her personal experience, knowledge set as well as motivation. Therefore, an efficient and pragmatic classification system should provide a clear hierarchical structure to guide users.

Peirce distinguished three phases of “Interpretants”: Immediate (our first impression that something perceived as symbolic has meaning), Dynamic (the meanings that emerge and develop with new associations in uses and contexts), and Final (the motivation for completed meaning experienced as future-directed unlimited possibility) (Irvine, 2015). The Art Genome Project juxtaposes different “phases of Interpretants” to the users simultaneously without explanation, which makes the meaning network flat and difficult to understand.

The Immediate Interpretant is “the schema in [our] imagination…all that is explicit in the sign apart from its context and circumstances of utterance” as Peirce described (Atkin, 2013). For Egon Schiele’ Self Portrait with Raised Bared Shoulder (1912), the Immediate Interpretant could be “close-up”. “Close-up” is a general and explicit feature people without any pre-requisite professional knowledge will associate with the painting because the subject in the painting is tightly framed. Notably, “close-up” at here is not a photography or filmmaking term but a descriptive trait people naturally use to describe a close view.

The second type of interpretant is the Dynamic Interpretant. Peirce describes the Dynamic Interpretant as the “effect actually produced on the mind” (Atkin, 2013). For Egon Schiele’ Self Portrait (1912), the Dynamic Interpretant could be “provocative” because the subject stares at viewers directly displays an unnatural eyebrow flash, which is an universal facial expression “will often be perceived as a foe signal” (Schafer & Karlins, 2015). “Provocative” consists of the interpretations made previously, that is, it consists of the “close-up” in the sign chain. Often a close-up scene will generate a confrontation feeling; therefore, people will spontaneously reach the “provocative” understanding.

Peirce describes the Final Interpretant as, “effect that would be produced on the mind by the sign after sufficient development of thought”(Atkin, 2013). At the end of inquiry for the Egon Schiele painting, people will reach “self-portrait” because of the self-reflective nature and “close-up” composition artist often adopted when creating their self-portraits. As David Savan puts it, “Peirce’s intention was to identify the third type of interpretant as providing a norm or standard by which particular stages (Dynamical Interpretants) of an historical process may be judged”(Savan, 1988). Self-portrait became a classical main subject since Jan van Eyck’s panel self-portraits in fifteen century, and set up a “close-up” composition tradition for this genre of art. Therefore, for art historians, “self-portrait” is a term, which directs the future use.

Artsy lists “close-up”, “provocative” as well as “self-portrait” together under Egon Schiele’ Self Portrait with Raised Bared Shoulder (1912) without any rationalized description among those “genes”; therefore, the juxtaposition breaks the linear phrases of interpretant. Art Genome Project’s design drives users to focus on trivial “preferences” while ignoring the depth of structure in meaning making process. The irrational juxtapositions are overwhelming for general users and useless for knowledgeable collectors. Although The Art Genome Program is a reasonable application of Peirce’s Model of Semiosis, it is not a pragmatic tool for education or collection.

A Museum Without Wall

The Art Genome Project has an ambitious mission, which claims it offers digital images housed in partners’ museums as well as galleries and it will be an online resource for education. Lacking a visible classificatory referential, all descriptive, emotional and art historical categories are rendered in a flat network, which makes the Art Genome Project an irrational discourse of the real artworks in museum environment.

Prevailing debates on the relationships between virtual “historical” objects and physical historical collections used to be bounded by established material culture and “aura” paradigms. A liberating force of scholars, including André Malraux and media theorist Lev Manovich, took up Walter Benjamin’s concern argued the digital historical objects are subjects to cultural politics and were not attempt to identify with physical reality. Therefore, a virtual museum is an abstract organizational system, which will ideally create a more condensed and well-structured “cultural encyclopedia”. Malraux describes museum’s function is more and more intellectualized and viewers will have the expectation that curators will present well-organized prototypes as art historical exemplars to them. Malraux writes,

For over a century our approach to art has been growing more and more intellectualized. The art museum invites criticism of each of the expressions of the world it brings together; and a query as to what they have in common. To the “delight of the eye” there has been added-owing to the sequence of conflicting styles and seemingly antagonistic schools-an awareness of art’s impassioned quest, its age-old struggle to remold the scheme of things (Malraux & Malraux, 1978, p.15).

Art Genome Project’s mission is same with the notion of virtual museum but it fails to provide a clear structure. Without a rational discourse of the history behind the objects, viewers will find it hard to understand why certain art works are masterpieces thus find the“cultural encyclopedia” difficult to read. Malraux explains, “an artist’s supreme work is not the one in best accord any tradition-nor even his most complete and ‘finished’ work-but his most personal work, the one from which he had stripped all that is not his very own, and in which his style reaches its climax. In short, the most significant work by the inventor of a style” (Malraux, 1978, p.15). Therefore, people will still long for a clear referential structure.The Art Genome Project categorized artworks according to artists, subject matter, medium etc. without any explanation of the categorization, hidden the complexity as well as the process. The multiple levels of abstraction generates infinite hyperlinks, which render it difficult to delve into each characteristic. Taking Egon Schiele’s Self Portrait (1912) as an example, people would be easily distracted by the series of hyperlinks ending with Ai Weiwei’s artworks and forget about the clue linked from the Austrian impressionist to the Chinese conceptual artist. The computer-generated imagery museum offered the viewer unlimited opportunities to explore, but as Fiona Cameron descripted “It represents a social desire for rational meanings by users in order to give them a clear statement of the visual surrogate’s value as a signifier, as an analogy of its physical counterpart (Cameron & Kenderdine, 2007). Therefore, viewers need a rational structure to explain why certain exemplars were chosen and what’s their inner connection.

Compare to The Art Genome Program, Google Art Project is also an online platform, which provides digital images of artworks housed in the initiative’s partner museums and gives a much clearer structure to users. Museum curators handpicked representative masterpieces to digitalize and the Virtual Gallery Simulations offered the viewer a sense context of the original structure and curatorial design embedded in the exhibition space. Different from Artsy’s Art Genome Project, it does not provide further curatorial explanation besides the description provided by museums. Notably, Google Art Project allows curators from their partners’ institutions to create digital exhibitions. The online exhibition feature is a digital story telling process organized by professional curators with images, videos and word descriptions. Users are welcome to explore and search collections by medium, curator and date etc.. Each exhibition is a complete story articulated by professional curators, which ensured its credibility so users won’t feel the artworld is accessible.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 11.06.47 AM

“Search – Google Cultural Institute.” Explore Exhibitions. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

The Art Genome Program is designed to build a concrete and visible model to guide viewers to explore the artworld but it fails to construct a clear structure. Compare to Google Art Project, The Art Genome Program provides redundant characteristics under each artwork without any legitimate explanation or hierarchy of categorization among the associations. Therefore, The Art Genome Project is not a well-organized digital museum.

Art Genome Program Website’s Affordances

The art industry is a relationship-driven business funded not only by auction houses or galleries, but more importantly the merits are embedded in “cultural capitals” generated by art fairs, museum exhibitions and more.

Art Genome Project claims it’s an online resource for galleries and art lovers, but Artsy’s business model reveals it is actually a middleman between galleries and collectors. Artsy relies on two major funding sources: first, it charges the galleries a monthly subscription fee to access to the platform; second, it takes a small commission on benefit auctions (Griffith, 2015). Artsy is not taking a combative approach attempting to democratize the artworld by excluding galleries from the industry, while it adopts a collaborate approach tried to thrive in the old-school business.

In the art ecosystem, the artistic merits cannot be derived directly from the economic transaction. The artistic capitals people do receive from the art they pay for are not only a tangible good, but social capitals such as inspiration, pride and enlightenment. As Pierre Bourdieu describes, the conversion between social capitals and economic capitals can be obtained only by virtue of a social capital of relationships (Bourdieu, 1986). Museums, auction houses and galleries are in a symbiosis system, namely an artwork’s market value relies on not only the authenticity and condition of the work, but also depends on “whether the painting is hung in the museum, where it is hung and how often, where it was before it came into its present ownership, in whose private collections the painter is represented, whether he is being spoken of in the popular as distinct from the professional art journals and if dealers are promoting or disregarding him”(Grampp, 1989, p.27). Therefore, art dealers are eager to leverage the “social capitals” of an artwork by carefully manage where and how it was presented to viewers.

As an online platform, the social capitals offered by The Art Genome Project solely rely on its interface. Gibson introduced a concept, “affordance”, which means “action possibilities” latent in the environment (Zhang & Patel, 2006). I will apply the concept here to analyze The Art Genome Project’s interface. One of the important properties of Gibson’s affordance is that he describes affordance provides values and meanings complementarily to the perceiver, so affordance is neither an objective property nor a subjective property”(Zhang & Patel, 2006). In visual representation layout like website interface, the structures and information showcased on the platform provides the allowable actions to the viewers. Users of The Art Genome Project capture the external representations such as the layout, structure and functions on the website and internalize the cognitive signs simultaneously. However, The Art Genome Project’s interface design gives users an impression that the artworks they are present on the website are not scarce, which is withering its “social capitals”.

The Art Genome Project’s interface has three distinct features compare to other online fine art auction websites.The Art Genome Project lists artworks share similar “genes” with an “infinite scroll” embedded in each characteristic page; also, users can “follow and like” artists and artworks; and finally, they can sort artworks displayed by price and size.

When Art Genome Project’s users encounter the interface, their perception and activity will be constrained by its physical and cognitive affordances. Compare to Artsy, Invaluable as the world’s largest online auction marketplace has a different image display design. When users click the categories, the total number of artwork will be displayed. Users can personalize how many artworks they prefer to see on each page and they are offered a clear vision of page number with a drop-down list design. Invaluable’s interface gives users a sense of scarcity and each piece of art is distinct from others. By one click of the “Humor” category for example, 4929 pieces of artwork are represented on a vertical plane of identity. When scrolling down to the bottom of the page, more images will show up and there seems will be infinite images, which all share the same characteristic. This design gives user the illusion of equality.

In addition, users can choose to “Follow” a category, artist and museum to collect their favorite genres in their personal page. By following them, users can share their collections via Facebook and Twitter, also they can browse and follow the content of other users’ main pages. By doing so, the users’ “art feed” displays personalized images. Pinterest is a photo sharing website which share the very similar design with The Art Genome Project’s. Users can upload and manage images—known as pins—through collections known as pinboards. What’s more, these two websites’ “like” and “follow” bottoms share similar styles. The design of “follow and like” function reminds users of photo sharing websites like Pinterest, and the inefficient design renders artworks on the websites to“delight of the eye”.The Art Genome Project’s interface creates the distraction that art works can are images, which can live without content. Users can appreciate and collect them base on their visual figures. Malraux describes the art museum saying, “The art museum, born when the easel-picture was the one living form of art, came to be a pageant not of color but of pictures; not of sculpture but of statues” (Malraux & Malraux, 1978). However,The Art Genome Project’s interface makes the artworks deteriorates to color.

In addition,The Art Genome Project’s users can sort the artwork displayed by price and size, which creates the impression that the products and services users can receive on the website are consumer goods. For consumer goods, buyers’ primary concerns are their budgets and they assume the products listed are interchangeable. is the world’s largest online retailer of posters for wall déco. Consumers are also allowed to sort posters listed by price and size, which perfectly fulfills their needs: find a poster to fill their empty wall with limited budget. The Art Genome Project’s sorting tool’s affordance indicates that the artworks are also interchangeable and are used for home decoration.

In conclusion, I have attempted here to critique the Art Genome Project, which is a generative classification system of Artsy. The system’s design philosophy seems reasonable based on C. S. Peirce’s Model of Semiosis, which highlights meaning making is a generative as well as infinite process. Notwithstanding, Art Genome Project’s design drives the users to focus on trivial “preferences” while ignoring the depth of structure in meaning making process, which makes it a poor well-organized digital museum for education. In addition, The Art Genome Project’s affordances make it an untrustworthy online auction platform.


“About | Artsy.” N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Adam, Georgina. Big Bucks the Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century. Burlington: Lund Humphries, 2014. Library Catalog. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

Atkin, Albert. “Peirce’s Theory of Signs.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Summer 2013. N.p., 2013. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

Boucher, Brian. “Assessing The Art World’s Pandora Goes Beta.” Art in America (2012): n. pag. Web.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital.” Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (1985): 242–258. Print.

Cameron, Fiona, and Sarah Kenderdine, eds. Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse. The MIT Press, 2007. CrossRef. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

“Egon Schiele | Self Portrait with Raised Bared Shoulder (1912) | Artsy.” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

Grampp, William D. Pricing the Priceless: Art, Artists and Economics. First Edition. New York: Basic Books, 1989. Print.

Griffith, Erin. “A Bold, New Direction for the Fine Art Industry: Online Sales.” Fortune (2015): n. pag. Web.

Irvine, Martin. “Semiosis and Cognitive Semiotics.” Google Docs. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

“Keith Haring | Untitled (1982), Available for Sale | Artsy.” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

“Lina Scheynius | Untitled (Diary) (2004), Available for Sale | Artsy.” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

Malraux, André, and André Malraux. The Voices of Silence. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1978. Print. Bollingen Series 24A.

Miller, M.H. “Point, Click, Collect: Brings the Art World Online… Again.” Observer. N.p., 4 June 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Mufti, Shahan. “’s ‘Genome’ Predicts What Paintings You Will Like.” WIRED. N.p., 23 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Savan, David. An Introduction to C.S. Peirce’s Full System of Semeiotic. Toronto Semiotic Circle, 1988. Print.

Schafer, Jack, and Marvin Karlins. The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over. Simon and Schuster, 2015. Print.

Zhang, Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14 2 (2006): 333–341. Print.

Artsy’s Art Genome Project

Through out this week’s synthesis, I realized the models and concepts we approached provided us a strong theoretical support for our daily used media artifact. I was especially fascinated by the generative principles for unlimited new instances of expression and re-mediation. When I was exploring Atsy’s website, I had this aha moment finding that The Art Genome Project is such a great example of several models we delved in.

The Art Genome Project is the classification system and technological framework that powers Artsy. It maps the characteristics, including art historical movements, subject matter, and formal qualities, that connect artists, artworks, architecture, and design objects across history. (“About | Artsy,” 2015). It reminds me of studies on the nature of symbolic cognition and sign systems.

The Art Genome Project tried to develop a more tangible artworld to the general public, and one of their goals was to create an online education tool to give access anyone to the artworld. The genome system reminds me of C. S. Peirce’s model of semiosis, which is a cognitive-generative-social process. When confronting an artwork, people with different knowledge set will generate different associations, but more importantly, the cognitive-generative-social process is universal. Also, some essential knowledge is consistent such as religious symbols and humanity . The project is built on the universal process and the essential understanding set among people. We can also apply Jackendoff’s Parallel Architecture to this case: each work of art would generate certain genome, and our understanding about visual representation is also a generative combinatorial system like language.

Similar to Google Art Project, the Arty website tried to build up an online resource for art collecting and education. However, it provided a classification system to the users to build up their own “museum”. It’s not only a meta-media platform, but also provided some curatorial knowledge to the users. I want to question if Artsy is misleading the public with superficial characters associated among artists, and who is the curator in this case, the users or the database? Also, if the website is building personalized digital museum because it embeds lots of museum functions?

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.25.36 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.26.04 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.26.14 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.26.25 PM

The Art Genome Project:

“About | Artsy.” N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

The Boundary and Possibility of Digital White Cube

O’Doherty mentioned in Inside the White Cube that, “The history of modern art can be correlated with changes in that space and in the way we see it. We have now reached a point where we see not the art but the space first. An image comes to mind of a white, ideal space that, more than any single picture, may be the archetypal image of 20th-century art. And it clarifies itself through a process of historical inevitability usually attached to the art it contains.” Rauschenberg’s White Paintings of 1951, which hung in cross-formations from the celling as part of the environment can be seen as part of visual/performance art. It indicates Zen aesthetics, but more importantly, it questioned whether art experience should actually be sought from ‘within’ objects. When visitors approach the museum environment, they would contemplate the meaning of this “emptiness” as “high-art”, which can be painstaking because it challenged people on their understanding of art and museum’s function.

Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting

In regards to Malraux’s Imaginary Museum, the decontextualized representations of works of art in photographic reproductions in books enabled a reconceptualization of art by styles and cultures, abstractions that render a history of cultural objects into “art history.” Benjamin describes the remediated work would lose its “aura.” “By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence” (Benjamin, 1939). Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise comprises a collection of miniatures and samples of his pre-1935 output. Duchamp remediated his works in a portable museum, which is remediated art history book or a salesman’s brief case.  Hopkins describes the Boîte-en-Valise exemplifies the transition between two worlds: the old Europe of the museum and the connoisseur, and the young America of the commercial gallery and the artistic commodity. By duplicate his won works, Duchamp challenged the “aura” of original pieces.


Boîte-en-Valise, Marcel Duchamp, 1941

Malraux describes the art book and reproduction cannot capture the real artifacts but the distilled art history, “What is reproduced and mediated in art books? The already-organized holdings of museums, libraries, and archives, and the concept of ‘art history’ itself.” While some artists deliberately questioned the easel painting tradition and created some art works that are very hard to be reproduced. Rauschenberg’s notorious Bed of 1955 moved bed from a horizontal to vertical orientation in the object’s upright placement. Based on a picture, it is really hard to capture the controversial essence of this work and without the physical experience with the texture, Rauschenberg’s inventive notion: “Combines” seems meaningless.


Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955

In 1950’s, the London-based Independent Group openly embraced kitsch and further challenged museum’s function and it’s ability to mirror art works. In IG’s Parallel of Life and Art exhibition, photographs of varying sizes were attached to the gallery walls. Some of them were suspended by wires from the celling. Malraux describes that, “In an album or art book the illustrations tend to be of much the same size. Thus works of art lose their relative proportions; a miniature bulks as large as a full-size picture, a tapestry or a stained glass window. ” IG’s photography exhibition challenged the stereotype on photography; however, when it was introduced as one example in art history books, it still have to be limited by the scale and relatively poor picture quality 60 years ago.


Parallel of Life and Art,1953

Malraux noted that photographic reproductions in a book can only provide an abstract notion of a style. The dis-located or de-located “museum” enables an abstract encyclopedia of comparisons across history and material contexts, but one that thematizes “styles” or features thought to be held in common(Irvine, 2015). In Google Art Project, the Imaginary Museum 2.0., which attempted to tackle an imaginary museum with most recent technology, provided more space sense by adding 360-degree indoor map function.  Google art project’s indoor map function add 3D user experience, which provided more possibilities for Modern Artists and Pop Artists to express their esthetic values in some extend.

Google Art Project Indoor Map



Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube (Chap. 1)

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility (1936; rev. 1939).

Hopkins, D. (2000). After Modern Art 1945-2000 (1St Edition edition). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
André Malraux, “La Musée Imaginaire (The Imaginary Museum)”.




Are We Using the Same Interface Style All Along?

The most inspiring quotation from this week’s readings is Alan Kay’s words, “The music is not the piano.” From my understanding, by saying that Alan Kay wanted to remind us the intention for interface design all about how can we interact with the content and absorb more information from it. Kay thought differently from his precursors in computer science, he wanted to find a way to envision computing from simple binary computation.  Kay designed Dynabook wanted it to be operated by everyone, to include children. For him, the content and the interaction between users and machines are the most important part of the conversation on interfaces. Kay says in the interview, “For all media, the original intent was ‘symmetric authoring and consuming’.”

Manovich’s idea that software is the essential element strongly echoes Kay’s philosophy. From my understanding, Manovich’s central argument of the entire book is that the important thing to analyze is not the “hardware” at all, but the software which people created to re-mediates and makes that content accessible. We are in a remediated and metamediated world, which means all media do not exist as stand-alone media objects; instead software encompasses everything that we consume from older technologies.

Debray also embraced the idea that, “New media is in some ways remediating our entire culture and forcing us to take a much broader perspective when analyzing media and communications.” Not surprisingly, when I look at the interfaces of social media, webpages and blogs, I found them all look similar. It reinforced my understanding about the idea started from Kay that people should feel they are interacting with the computer to get the content or information from it. He even expanded his idea that people should also be able to tailor their applications to suit their specific needs and desires. Therefore, the best interface should not be too “fancy” to hinder its affordance. Maybe we are most comfortable with or used to the newspaper column style interface.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.42.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.42.11 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.42.51 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.46.12 PM

CT VS. Programming

I’ve dabbled a bit in learning Java language before via Processing. Readings from this week expanded the foundation of programing and provided us sufficient reasons why we should learn coding. In the video, Wing  also explained why computation mattersShe points to real world examples where machine learning in the sciences has produced results never available to us before. CT allows such data mining to be efficient; it allows efficiency in time, in storage space, and in processing power. Because of CT’s efficiency, these complex, vast projects could be processed by human.

However, I am still struggling to understand the relationship between programming and CT. Jeanette Wing clarifies that computational thinking is not equivalent to programming:

Computation Thinking is “A way that humans, not computers, think. Computational thinking is a way humans solve problems; it is not trying to get humans to think like computers. Computers are dull and boring; humans are clever and imaginative.”

Yet my own experiences with programming definitely feel like an exercise in thinking like a computer. When experimenting and learning this language, the salient feature is that users need to set up global variables at the very beginning of every work, so the following logic will add bricks on the foundation. However, normal human thinking would start from the goals they would like to accomplish. The fundamental structure projects “stack” in language, which is a useful way to keep track of the sub-networks. Similar to the trays metaphor, when running programs, computer will trace back to the global variable settings and run “void setup” and then run “void draw”. Just as Evans described, “We use a stack of nodes to keep track of the sub-networks as they are entered. The top of the stack represents the next node to process. At each step, we pop the node off the stack and follow a transition from that node.” Different from other mathematical process, commands wrote in “draw loop” run as infinite loops.

As Prof. Irvine mentioned “Program instructions are ‘read’ and executed in a linear path (serial processing); that is, processing requires a strict logical and physical synchronized time sequence. ‘Parallel Processing’ must sum up separate serial processes at synced time states.” The indefinitely running feature of draw loop in Processing is intrinsically bonded to the purpose of the software, which is to build electronic art and visual design communities. By infinitely running some variation, the process generates some patterns. As a rookie in Processing, I often accidentally made something interesting and when I scrutinize the “mistake”, I can learn how to appreciate the logic behind it. The fascinating part and aesthetic value of generative art is not the work itself, but also the code, the creative process.

Although experimenting is not the efficient way to work with programing, I think the the essence of CT is thinking creatively about varies possible solutions that could be realized via machine/software. Therefore, the experimenting experience could be used as a learning tool. After all, people can only be highly familiar with the language then could possibly know what  they could accomplish or what should be their goals.

I agree with Wing that CT should be a pervasive part of education, but I’m more skeptical of her proposition that CT can be practiced without programming, or saying people who are not competent and familiar with programming could truly understand CT.


The Blurred Line Between Internal and External Minds

Contemplation sometimes can only be done with assistant of paper and pen. When finishing a simple task, such as set up a reminder or checking the weather on our smart phones to the process of completing the same task using only our internal “mind,” you will find it’s really hard to accomplish anything without “external” mind and that “external” assistant could make our “internal” minds more comprehensive. Therefore, considering these processes performed on external devices, as part of cognition, an external cognition, or an external mind is reasonable. (Clark and Chalmers). 

On the other hand, in order to symbolize/understand the our surrounding environment and people, human created coupled system (Clark and Chalmers), which all elements in it can direct impact on human organism and human behavior. Human plug varies symbolic systems/modules into brain to generate schemata. Accumulation of different types of schemata will spontaneously generate a language system, scaffolding. The scaffolding fulfilled the need of symbolization and communication. They coupled system of meaning exchanging with other people is an extension of human body, like any other technologies.

The concept of the “distributed cognition” discussed in this week’s readings seems does not focus on a single location as the center of cognition. Distributed cognition as Hutchins explains, allows for “principles that apply at multiple scales and across vastly different kinds of cognitive systems” (Hutchins 2013, 37).  Hutchins also says that his theory is not an attempt to “make any claim about the nature of the world. Rather, it is to choose a way of looking at the world…” This claim puts the entire field of cognitive science into conceptual, and blurred the fine line between physical external minds such as iPhones and “distributed cognition” in our social life. Since Hutchins’ question is a conceptual and perspective proposal, empirical evidence will likely never be able to be quantifiably proven. The question still caught my attention is that how can we consciously use distributed cognition in real life and how would it benefit our internal world besides the adoption of tools.

Restored Reality—Google Contact Lens

Google Contact Lens is a smart contact lens project announced by Google on 16 January 2014. The project aims to assist people with diabetes by constantly measuring the glucose levels in their tears. However, the original idea when Google announced the lens project was to design an augmented reality device for healthy people and even for blind.


By adopting modularity design philosophy, a lot of pre-exist technologies can embedded in the lens, such as camera, sensor and screen. An embedded camera can capture the moment users choose, and the information can be saved for future analyses. Also, the camera will follow users’ gaze and can zoom in/out to provide detailed information that natural human vision cannot cover. Also, a sensor can embed in smart contact lenses; therefore, facial recognition and searching feature can be realized. In addition, the camera and sensor can provide thermal induction and night vision features to users. Therefore, users can largely expand their vision and information in various extreme conditions. The sensor could be a light sensor, pressure sensor, temperature sensor or electrical field sensor, which may allow people to gain a “sixth sense” of sorts. With an embedded mini screen in the lenses, users can visualize important information such as the target they are looking for or an emergency. For example, the lens will highlight an approaching car to prevent car accident. Equipped police officers can haunt their target without wearing heavy gears. The camera would be placed below users’ pupil without obstructing their view. The control circuit could be linked wirelessly or via a wire to the camera and sensor. Therefore, users can control the device via gazing, blinking or finger gestures.

This idea is a perfect example of a transparent interface. Which would be one that erases itself, so that the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium. This device would combine three essential features of new technology: immediacy, hypermediacy, and remediation. Even though the prototype of this project was only aimed to assist people with diabetes by constantly measuring the glucose levels, the as long as the hardware has been developed, software will updated really soon. When it comes to the nature of new technology, Manovich highlighted that, “None of the new media authoring and editing technologies we associate with computers are simply a result of media ‘being digital.’ The new ways of media access, distribution, analysis, generation, and manipulation all come from software.” Manovich’s idea is similar to Bolter and Grusin’ s when they are talking about new media: immediacy, hypermediacy, and remediation did not begin with the introduction of digital media. We can identify the same process throughout the last several hundred years of Western visual representation.

All of theses reminded me the modularity design philosophy. According to Baldwin and Clark (2006), modularity means breaking the whole operation system into different, smaller, self-contained systems. Arthur (2009) pointed out that, “Supporting any novel device or method is a pyramid of causality that lead to it.” Different workers are borrowing prototypic designs from each other. With the interaction between this device and the users further, the users generated more and more “discrete pieces”. New media obviously “remediated” and “hypermediated” the pre-existed media, and the embedded features are consistent and can be traced back to Renaissance. However, my question is with technology developed, some disabled people could expand/restore their abilities, would this be considered as something innovative because of the development of hardware?


Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. New York, NY: FrDavid, P. A. (1985).

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

A mundane brain

 “No, I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I’m after is just a mundane brain.”

—Alan Turing

The readings for this week introduced a model called “conduit metaphor”. Associates with Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication – which “the signal transmission model is based on binary math, it simplified and cleared the noises in human communication system. This model suffers from a radical disconnect with the processes of natural language in that it does not really address meaning. Deacon defines Shannon information as, “the amount of uncertainty that is removed with the receipt of a given signal.” In addition, Deacon utilizes the concept of Boltzmann entropy which described in thermodynamic terms is, “a change in the state of a physical system that would not otherwise occur is inevitably characterized by a local reduction in its physical entropy resulting from work done on that system from outside.”( Deacon, 2010). Deacon uses the example of a typo in a manuscript explained the information can only be decoded with receivers’ background knowledge support .

According to Deacon, the essential qualities of information are uncertainty, surprise, difficulty, and entropy. Uncertainty, in turn, can be measured by counting the number of possible messages. If only one message is possible, there is no uncertainty and thus no information. Therefore, the vast messages we extrapolated from digital data on webs and texts are embedded in our per-existed meaning systems. As Prof. Irvine explained, “The meaning contexts, semantic networks, and social functions of digitally encoded content are not present as properties of the data because they are everywhere systematically presupposed by information users. Shared meaning, contexts, and networks of prior expressions necessarily precede encoding and are there in our meaning communities to be activated when we catch what’s decoded.(2014)”

The conversation between Deacon and his former scholars reminds me of  C. S. Peirce. He mentioned symbols are not just the connection signifier and a signified, but rather the relationship between the sign, the representamen and the interpretant. Therefore, I have no trouble understanding Deacon’s information system. The reason people can interact with the data and use then to build other artifacts such as music and art relies on the very basic model. When developing the mathematical models, Shannon proposed feeding “cultural things,”such as music, to an electronic brain, and they outdid each other in brashness. I think base on Deacon’s and Peirce’s models of information and human meaning systems, Shannon’s dream can never come true.


Terrence W. Deacon, “What’s Missing from Theories of Information?”, In Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics, edited by P. C. W Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen, 146–69. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. (New York, NY: Pantheon, 2011).

Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Theory of Information and Communication (video)

Warhol’s Unbounded Merge

Through out the readings for this week, I found a particular fascinating feature of parallel principles:  “unbounded Merge”. Chomsky uses the term to describe the “unifying operation for rule-governed combinatoriality”. Andy Warhol experimented about Campbell’s Soup Can for almost a year, and released a thirty-two flavored Campbell soup can painting.   His soup cans do not seek to be pictures about something, but the picture of a real object: they choose purely to affirm the object. This unlimited recursion is widely recognized as an essential cognitive capacity that unites language, memory, and all other forms of symbolic cognition and expression (Martin, 2014). Warhol hand-painted all flavored Campbell soup cans, which is a consumables that can be seen everywhere and purchased by anyone. A real object now is transferred into a fine art work. Warhol used repetition and enlargement highlighted the recursion. As Heiner Bastian describes, “Warhol’s repletion of the motif can no doubt also be seen as the meta-level of an illustration of consumer-goods advertising, a kind of unbiased litany for the optical formulas of everyday myths that have lost their appeal.”

Warhol, compare to other post-modern artists like Roy Lichtenstein, is always looking for new popular items to practice in his art model. Pinker and Jackendoff sum up an accepted view in linguistics: “Recursion consists of embedding a constituent in a constituent of the same type, for example a relative clause inside a relative clause.” Similar to this theory, Warhol tried to practice Do-It-Yourself series, Cartoon, and Coco-Cola bottle before he adopted silk-screen technology.The subject can be varied, but the “grammar” of his painting was consistent.He was trying to use clear hand-painted painting to enlarge and mirror popular icons in mass media.

Warhol-campbells_soup_cans_moma-19641 "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can OpenerSecurity guards stand near Coca-Cola [4] Large Coca-Cola by Andy Warhol during a preview of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art auction in New YorkHeiner Bastian describes that Warhol’s Coco-Cola as an anti-metaphorical style. He emphasized this was an important step Warhol had taken in the direction of new painting. He said, “In winter 1960, he depicted a Coca-Cola bottle. The utter isolation of the much-enlarged object and its alien lack of compromise which can only be seen as futurist, puts this motif in a class of its own. ” However, meaning-making is not only a lexicon, which can isolated as something “new”, but it can only happen through communally Encyclopedia, which based on cultural contexts, dialogic relations to other works and genres, and situated knowledge of the members of a meaning community who create and receive the symbolic expressions (Irvine). Peirce also highlighted the ongoing development nature of meaning system in his semiosis model. I think we can understand Warhol’s style as an ongoing dialogic model. He was not trying to make a clear statement to isolate himself to the past, but he’s trying to bring new lexicons he noticed in mass media into this open-ended, unlimited sequences and network of meaning-making system.

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality” , The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Warhol, A., Bastian, H., Varnedoe, K., Neue Nationalgalerie (Germany), & Tate Modern (Gallery). (2002). Andy Warhol: Retrospective. London: Tate Pub.

“Post-“: unlimited interpretants

Jackendoff’s parallel architecture is described as maintaining variations of structures that refer to a semiotic process involving different ways of interpreting phonetics and syntax, “The parallel constraint-based architecture is logically non-directional” (Jackendoff).  “The person who has acquired knowledge of a language has internalized a system of rules that relate sound and meaning in a particular way” (Chomsky). Generatively, Peirce’s developed a theory of “seeing the meaning process as a nexus of relations and mediation that enable thought to be productive of new meanings.” This parallel or non-linear process can also be borrowed to explain Postmodernism trend in art.

For instance, Sherrie Levine painted After Joan Miro (1984) in which she was mimicking Miro’s Triptych Bleu. Levine’s work maintains different interpretants of semiosis in generative memories. Viewers who are familiar with art would find this painting quite alike Miro’s masterpiece and would read this painting from a critical perspective. Kuspit described postmodernism as, “It constructed absurdity supposedly piques the reader’s interest or draws his attention, an exercise in curiosity that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile, or at least intellectually justifies it. In fact, it is a kind of intellectualization of the already intellectualized — the already known, historical, thematized, conceptualized and thus categorically the case.” However, for people who have no experience in art history and Miro is not in their lexicon, they would read the work as a tranquilizing abstract painting. “This icon can have a different object from that of the interpretant found by the viewer, and it could be understood through different grounds for different interpretants (Peirce).”

after miro-Sherrie Levine


(Sherrie Levine, After Joan Miro, 1984)



(Joan Miró, Blue I, Blue II, and Blue III, 1961)

Kuspit explained that, “The artist becomes a cunning manipulator of the linguistically given, and the viewer an educated reader, rather than a person who has a certain complex, sometimes unexpected, not always immediately intelligible experience of the art.

Like language, art cannot be understood without the culture environment. In Barthes’s words, embedded in Sherrie Levine’s 1982 “Statement,” art is “a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centers of culture…. A multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.”

Artists used parody, remix and collage made semiosis an unlimited meaning making process. Art, like language, is based off of cultural and personal grounds, because everyone’s generated grammar is different from another’s, an interpretation of art could be different from person to person. The example is to show that there’s no defined lexicon and both human language and other similar cognitive world such as art and film. In order to communicate with others, a continuous learning process is necessary.

Donald Kuspit, The Semiotic Anti-SubjectArtnet, 4.20.2001. [Essay on the postmodernisms (plural) in recent art.]

Signs, Symbols, Cognition, Artefacts: A Reader of Key Texts (Google Doc). 

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Meaning Making, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics.”