Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What's in a name? (Again)

Some years ago I had to choose a name for my art practice. Now I am returning to this, as I am starting a Facebook artist's page ( and an Instagram page ( It is apparently necessary to have a label that is at most three words long, in accordance with the idea of an "elevator statement" (U.S. usage, but "lift statement" sounds odd): you find yourself in a lift with an influential person: you want to tell them what you do, but you only have the time it takes the lift to travel a couple of floors.

My practice is to write computer programs that generate all or most of an artwork. There is an established name for the practice where artists set up systems (computerised or not) that generate artworks, and that is generative art. I would like to call myself a generative artist; unfortunately the term isn't well known, so it needs explanation; no good for elevator statements.

"Process artist" also needs explanation, and an artist's "process" generally refers to the personal process an artist goes through when making or developing work, such as reflecting on events or personal experience, gathering material, and so on. This is quite different from setting up a system that then makes the art.

"Computer artist" brings to mind someone who uses tools like Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator to make art, which is not what I do.

I thought about "programmer/artist", since I write programs as part of my practice. But I am not a professional programmer, and "programmer/artist" (or "artist/programmer") emphasises the programming side too much.  For me programming is a means to artistic ends.  Also I don't want to use "software artist", as "software art" has had the meaning of art, made in software certainly, that is about software (and about the way governments and big corporations use it); my art is not about software as such, nor about its political implications, except in a very indirect fashion.

I have a similar problem with "mathematician/artist". It is quite a while since I have been active as a mathematician. I certainly use ideas from mathematics as one of the major inspirations for my work, and I use a certain amount of relatively low-level mathematics while writing my programs, but "mathematician/artist" over-emphasises the mathematical side (even if it might be good branding).

So the best three-words-or-fewer approximation I can think of is still "digital media artist". If I am allowed five words I could say "generative artist (digital media artist)", but it would have to be a long lift journey.

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