9 (2006), Nr.4/December 


L’art philosophique

Wie Gold der Quell nun floß(Eichendorff). Preliminary reflection concerning open source arts, radio and tv. With thanks to Peter Schober, today with Zentraler Informatikdienst der Universität Wien, for his support over the years. 7554 characters.


The arts festival Styrian Autumn 2007 prepares for an attempt to open source theater (Medak 2006, 145). In 2006 the festival had already supported similar concerns with respect to visual software art (in this article not referred to), particularly with reference to Processing as initiated by Casey Reas und Ben Fry (see Further Processing at


Indeed, browsing through „open source <+ one of the arts>“ shows a variety of meaning/use of  “open source” if though of minor importance most of the times. What about succulent fostering and sharing in gardening art? Or want alter poetry on For painting “open source” is a metaphor for a painting program and an image retouching program on the pc. At second glance it doesn’t surprise that open source sculpture gravitates to “real” bodies, to show value, sex sites and teen magazines. With music, the usual napster/mp3/file sharing comes up as well as the vast score archive of Architecture websites express expectations toward an egoless, cooperative and evolutionary practice. Opera in the internet is as dated as to give way Opera Software used for instance as a mini Web browser for mobile phones. With cinematography “open source” seems to nourish primarily the desire for free downloadable movies as fulfilled  by German "Route 66" in 2004, a fact to which corresponds animation movie "Elephants Dream" released in 2006 with providing “production files” accessible with open software, for instance 3D animation program "Blender". Of course there is podcasting Open Source Radio in San Francisco with its start in May 2005. And of course the term “open source” is occupied is not so much occupied by open standard internet tv as by  today’s leading video portal YouTube. Broadcast YourselfTM stapling  65.000 new videos per day with a 100 MB maximum storage offered to each video (


It is still difficult to even outline an overall theory of an open source art comprising all of the singular arts as addressed by philosophical aesthetics. So a hint may be in order. (There is a design, a plan, an idea for an artwork: sketches for a painting, a score for musical performances, an outline for a novel, a script for a movie. All of these are programs. What may be at bottom together with software programs?)


According to former philosophy student and artist Lawrence Weiner – see his 1991 piece “(Im Frieden der Nacht) Smashed to Pieces (In the Still of the Night) Zerschmettert in Stücke” painted on the whitened top of a bunker tower in one of former Third Reichs's towns, Vienna – , his Statement of Intent, in: ARTnews, fall 1968, runs as follows:  "(1) The artist may construct the piece. (2) The piece may be fabricated. (3) The piece may not be built. [Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership]". Expanding Weiner's definition as once set up for the sake of his own art to art in general I would like to render it the following way. Consistent with the intent of the artist or receiver a work may (2) but need not (3) be realized by the artist or´anyone else (1). In short: Upon intention of the artist-proprietor a work of art may be realized. Now, what can be realized is by definition separate from intention. It’s crystallized into a program, a conception. The old author’s intention returns. It’s not a translation into materials or appearances though. Therefore fallacies are excluded (Wimsatt/Beardsley 1946). It is purely digital, in any case not analogue. It’s just like a chain of words, signs. Like a program, a conceptual art. The same with conceptual art proper.


The Free Software Foundation on its turn has been defining "free software by whether or not the recipient has the freedoms to: * run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0) * study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1) * redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2) * improve the program and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3) <.> It also notes that 'Access to the source code is a precondition' for freedoms 1 and 3." ( A more simplified version may be as follows: Under the precondition of open access to the source a program may be used (0), adapted (1), modified (3) and multiplied (2). In other words: Under the precondition of the possibility of open source or participation a program may be used by anybody (multiplied, adapted, modified). There is no difference to art: the program – if used and applied or not is of no importance – is not conceived for any specific purpose. The purpose may be abandoned for a while of for good. The concept here – contrary to conceptual art – is allowed to be modified, slightly or strongly. And it is allowed to be given to others. The latter is not allowed with Weiner or other early conceptual artists. The former with Weiner is deflected by the possibilities of design.


Apart from the fact that Lawrence Weiner did an open sourcing of art however with retaining art in the form of property there are some striking similarities between (post)avantgardist art and free software. What is written or conceived is exactly what is executed – no secret here – however idealiter to be sure because the design of execution is given to different hands of any person available.


Is this to cause a new, albeit happy confusion? Art used to be conceived as welcoming secrets, intended or not, technically or programmatically. Yet what is a secret is not hidden or vice versa. Therefore a long hermeneutic tradition. The code is present, but requires appropriate reading/interpretation. That was taken up in more recent times by psychological or sociological readings of works of arts resulting in the final revelation of the psychological or sociological system of aesthetic experience and artistic production. Is now another stage of enlightening arts and technology dawning with aiming at discovering fully transparent and immanent forms and ways of programs and artworks?


Over the times, conceptual art was left of all pop, minimal, process, performance or object art of the 1960’s. Already a strong underpinning (of justification) of all art endeavours in the 1970’s, conceptual art took shape in 1980’s postconceptual object-oriented art called appropriationism or simulationism. With the disappearance of 1980’s neoist painting and sculpture and the rise of artistic investigation into art as a social system now fully developed by media and commerce it was conceptualism that became the focus of the analytical framework of art theory in the 1990’s. So when Tomislaw Medak recommends rethinking „production as a particular social practice with its own institutional framework ... on the radar of the art-as-system debate“ (Medak 2006, 145) this kind of reflection may be traced back to discussions in the mid-1990’s as Volker Grassmuck reminded us (Wulfen (ed.) 1994; Grassmuck 2004).


In difference to commercialized art critical art as well as software has entered a state of seemingly pervasive social organization today. Is art and software today just a new form of social organization (Medak 2006, 145)? Is free software just a continuous process entertained by a multitude of people (Grassmuck 2004, 235)?

Is it possible that we producers and consumers sustain together a non-hierarchical individual as well as collective production? What kind finally of transparency has open source art to offer as an art? These are questions that will be answered in the course with technology and art that will be more developed than today. We enter interesting times.




a. (2006): The Free Software Definition, dl 12-22-2006


Grassmuck, Volker (2004): Freie Software. Zwischen Privat- und Gemeineigentum, = Schriftenreihe 458, Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.


Medak, Tomislaw <2006>: Open Source Paradigm in the Arts, in: <Mårten Spångberg, ed.> The Adventure. Vienna 17 July - 12 August 2006, n.p./n.d., 145-148, also rendered as


Wimsatt, W. K./Beardsley, M. C. (1946): The Intentional Fallacy, in: The Sewanee Review 54, 468-488.


Wulfen, Thomas (ed.) (1994): Betriebssystem Kunst - Eine Retrospektive, in: Kunstforum International, Januar/Februar, Bd. 125, 49-229



Peter Mahr © 2006


back to: Letter