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There is only the dance

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With AI art in the news in recent months, I decided to re-read Count Zero. I had read this decades ago, and it introduced me to the assemblage art of Joseph Cornell. One of the plots of the novel involves a search for a mysterious Cornell-esque artist, who turns out to be an AI. In explaining its work, the AI says, “My songs are of time and distance. The sadness is in you. Watch my arms. There is only the dance.”


“There is only the dance.” What that says to me is that the art is in the making rather than the artwork. Process over product. Culturally illiterate as I am, I didn’t recognize the T.S. Eliot reference until I googled it.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

And Eliot is apparently referencing Yeats:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

How do we know the artist from the art? That which we say and do and make help define who we are and want to be. But I’m also wondering about “the still point.” The beauty in art lies not in the work but in the experience of it. That’s another dance, as we bring ourselves to an artwork and find what we can in it, make what we can of it, from the interaction of our backgrounds and experiences with the art at hand. Perhaps we could call that dance a still point. Perhaps I am out of my depth.

What does this say about AI art? Something is lost in the dance. AI engines are trained on product, without regard for the process. That’s part of the “blurry jpeg” concept. There is, or can be, a dance with the tools and their products, a way to use them creatively. Or one could skip it, and accept the output as good enough. I thought about all of this when I read @dogtrax “AI analogy”. The culture industry will probably attempt to forgo the dance and sell us fuzzy jpegs, and that may be good enough for some.

I have to agree that “the connection between audience and musician in the same room is an energy you can’t quite replicate with machine” and suggest it holds true for any art. The connection – the dance – is what matters. IIRC, one of Crumb’s points in the above story was that the advent of recording diminished the participatory nature of music. No doubt AI will bring further changes.

Another thing I associate with The Dance is The Judge:

McCarthy takes us to a darker place for sure, but perhaps the violence he refers to can be seen as a metaphor for the struggle that goes into making art. When AI makes the output, where is the fiddler and where is the dance? I remember years ago a painting mentor denied that what Bob Ross did was art, because Ross was not engaged in exploration and discovery, not engaged in the struggle, but rather going through well-practice motions. A mime more than a dancer. A false dancer. Maybe I’ve gone down a rabbit hole into eternal darkness here. But the Judge is always dancing, and he says that he will never die. I guess that makes him .

Several of us discussed ideas of a ds106 exploration of AI at Reclaim Open. That would be a good stage for fiddling with these ideas. And we might make more sense of things than in my idle ramblings here.

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