Artefact and Artifice
Web Resources

This page contains additional resources for readers of the Artefact and Artifice [1] articles in the journal of Artificial Life (MIT Press). Artefact and Artifice is an occasional column exploring artificial life in the arts, popular culture and history.

Article 1

Views On Life (vol. 9 issue 1 - winter 2003)

"Perhaps once any human becomes intimately attuned to the nuances of character of some entity, the complexity of the relationship is always described in terms of the similarly complex relationship between living things. Hence, to this writer two blocks of marble seem alike. Yet to a sculptor attuned visually to their vein structure, aurally to their resonance when struck, and through his finger tips to their texture and the response of a tool, the blocks have internal dynamics: a complex force or stress which can be sensed. This feeling he readily attributes to its “life”.

This idea, as exemplified by the seeming conflict between cold, hard, freshly quarried stone and the soft warmth of expertly carved marble, is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting “Pygmalion and Galatea” (c. 1890). This work, housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, depicts the sculptor Pygmalion embracing his creation, Galatea (right). What better way for the painter to capture the character of the stone and the sculptor’s personal relationship to it, than by reference to the organism he and his subject find most desirable? “The statue had all the appearance of a real girl, so that it seemed to be alive, to want to move, did not modesty forbid” [2]. In his telling of the story from which the painting is derived, Ovid too references the many creation myths that tell of immortals breathing life into figures of earth and stone. It is fitting that Pygmalion should kiss his bride-to-be as a pulse is brought to her veins." [1]


Pygmalion and Galatea, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1824-1904,
Oil on canvas, 35x27, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA (photograph by the author)

"Sometimes everything just comes together and suddenly you’ve created this wonderful organism" - Steve Reich [3]

Steve Reich is a contemporary American composer known for his complex polyrhythmic music. His use of the term organism is unorthodox from an artificial life research perspective and therefore raises several issues of relevance to art, emergence and artificial life [1].

You can hear Reich's work Music for Eighteen Musicians online at the artist's web site. This is deservedly one of his most famous compositions, and perhaps that which best illustrates the application of the term "life" to his process-based musical work.

“As we gradually tear the point out of its restricted sphere of customary influence, its inner attributes – which were silent until now – make themselves heard more and more. One after the other, these qualities – inner tensions – come out of the depths of its being and radiate their energy. Their effects and influence upon human beings overcome ever more easily the resistance they set up. In short, the dead point becomes a living thing…

… Here it begins its life as an independent being and its subordination transforms itself into an inner purposeful one. This is the world of painting.” - Wassily Kandinsky [4]

Kandinsky illustrates the use of points and lines in the Appendix of his text Point and Line to Plane.
Kandinsky leaves us with the seemingly impossible notion that the quintessential static, zero-dimensional, or as the artist himself puts it dead entity, may acquire “life”. To illustrate how this transformation may occur, Kandinsky conveys his personal view of the overlooked, and usually overshadowed, point. The transformation Kandinsky describes is not so much in the point itself, it is in the viewer’s perception of it."[1]

An interesting and relevant late addition, see [5].

[1] Dorin, A. (2003),
Artefact & Artifice, in Artificial Life , Vol. 9, No. 1, MIT Press, pp79-87
[2] Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) (1973).
Metamorphoses. (M.M. Innes, Trans.). London: Penguin Classics. (Original work written c. 1 A.D.)
[3] Reich, S. (1997).
Music for 18 Musicians. CD liner notes, Nonesuch Records
[4] Kandinsky, W. (1979).
Point and Line to Plane. New York: Dover. (Original work published 1926)
[5] Thompson, E. (1991)
Perception and the Emergence of Colour. In Gaia 2, Emergence: The New Science of Becoming, Thompson (ed.), Lindisfarne Press, pp86-110

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