Low and High Fidelity in Electronic Arts

23 09 2011

One of the things I find eternally interesting in discussions around art and technology is the question of what drives the production of the work. For some artists it is about the slick use of new technologies and the concept is either invisible or of secondary importance. For other artists, it is the process of discovery and using the technology to work through conceptual issues within their work. There is value in both approaches undoubtedly, but this value often does not translate to an equal representation in art exhibitions and art funding. There is also the additional issue of gender representation, which has recently been a hot topic on the faces list.

When I was at the recent ISEA2011 in Istanbul, I had a great time meeting up with old friends, making some new friends and sharing ideas about where electronic arts is and where it is going.

In a forthcoming post I will review some of my highlights of ISEA and show some  of the projects that I personally found inspiring.

In this post I would like to unravel a notion of high and low fidelity in the space of media arts and online communications. Low and high fidelity is often a phrase used in UX design to describe ways of prototyping design. Low fidelity ranges from post-it notes and sketches to other basic forms of media to work through design and Information Architecture challenges, whereas high fidelity can mean anything from a fully marked up website in HTML and CSS to the use of Photoshop and Fireworks and other software to mockup designs (see my post on User Experience Fundamentals for more info).

High fidelity, low fidelity and Electronic Arts

So where is the value proposition in electronic arts (digital arts, art/sci, new media, and so on)? Is slicker, more tech reliant work *better* than work that explores the process not necessarily the outcome? Also, what constitutes as ‘art’ in this space. For example, I had a great conversation with Di Ball about Van Gogh’s chair and the relationship between blogging as a form of art and the notion of invention in electronic art (see her blog at http://thebeautyandthegeeks.blogspot.com/). Interestingly when I first met Di, we were both experimenting with web and back in the mid nineties it was a tres cool to even have a website, let alone one with animated gifs:-)

Di Ball - The beauty and the geeks

Di Ball - The beauty and the geeks

Anyway, I digress. I have seen some amazing work – some of which could be described as high fidelity and some equally great work which is comparatively low fidelity. I guess it comes back to what you are into – for me concept wins every time and I especially enjoy work that considers the implications of the technology being used. ( For example, I get quite annoyed with work that has the environment or climate change as its theme and is a power hungry, consuming beast that undermines the concept).

Also artists work in different ways – much of the high fidelity work relies on teams of image and sound renderers, programmers, etc, etc. What disappoints me is when those people are not recognised. Yes – the concept is important, but the work could not be realised without the support of many others.

High fidelity artwork is also more vulnerable to technical failure – I saw many potentially  interesting works, that did not *work*.

Also, wrapped in this dynamic of high and low fidelity is the question of funding – many works do not have the benefit of large buckets of research money. To be honest, I prefer to see work that is inventive and manages to exist despite a lack of institutional support.

To conclude, I hope that curators take the time to consider more than just the slick end result and consider the value of work made via experimentation, innovation which may not have all the bells and whistles. It is worth remembering that when he was alive Vincent van Gogh had very little support for his work and the arts establishment were very dismissive of his experimental, investigative approach. Let us not go down the same path with electronic arts.

Perhaps we need more of this sentiment:

QR Code - Old Age Anarchy

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