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Does a terabyte of illegal downloads constitute art? (wired.co.uk)
89 points by OJKoukaz on Nov 28, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 74 comments

Yeah, I'll vote that that's a pretty valid art project. He's calling up the movie image of a giant diamond on a pedestal, one that jewel thieves go to great trouble to steal because it's so incredibly valuable. Well, there he has $5 million in "stolen" loot, in a compact package with a comparable weight to value ratio as giant diamonds. In addition, one is confronted with wondering about intrinsic value. Is there really $5 million in value there? Is the Hope Diamond really worth $200 million? To who and what for?

Imagine an identical hard drive in the room, except this one is blank. Or if the data were continuously being copied back and forth between the two drives, and the displayed values went up and down accordingly. Actually what if this one turned out to be blank?

I've concluded that the simplest, broadest, yet still useful definition of "art" is: something which is made/done for the purpose of being perceived.

In this particular instance, the item itself is not meant to be perceived. To your point, it is indistinguishable from an empty hard drive (or whatever the contents are); there may be a valid issue to discuss, but there is nothing to perceive. Someone asserts there is "$5M of pirated software" there; I assert it contains a single trillion-digit random number, and there is nothing there to perceive in differentiation, even in theory - human perception of one data storage device is indistinguishable from a duplicate device containing different data.

This "exhibit" is qualitatively different from even the "blank canvas" "art" rhetorical device. The "1m square, 2 shades of black" painting I recall from a museum at least was in and of itself meant to be looked at, even if it required 3 pages of explanation to justify its pathetic existence. John Cage's 4'33" was in fact meant to be heard, though the pianist played no notes. Resounding voids they may have been, yet they were still meant to be perceived.

In this instance, the physical artifact could be replaced by any storage device of sufficient capacity. The alleged content may be the same, but the audience cannot perceive it in any way.

It's not art. It's a point of discussion.

Now, if the "artist" had, say, covered a wall with a trillion dots colored corresponding to that alleged data content, we'd have something for humans to perceive for the purpose of perceiving it - to wit, art. The audience could examine, at least in practical theory, the totality of the image and conclude there is something of value there. And if the opposing wall were likewise marked, but instead depicting a single trillion-digit random number, the audience could decide if there were any life-affecting difference between them, or conclude that the creation & viewing was a complete waste of time.

The part's of the work you don't see can be just as important as the parts you can see. You can look at the physical device, and if found art is still art then so can a HDD. But, in the larger context this is similar to creating a sculpture and then displaying it covered in a tarp. You could take at the information inside, but that's irrelevant to what you see and feel when you look at the HDD / Tarp.

PS: I think most people would get a much stronger reaction from looking at the tarp than they would looking at most pieces of modern art.

> But, in the larger context this is similar to creating a sculpture and then displaying it covered in a tarp.

The Hope Diamond doesn't need to be covered by a tarp for 99.999% of the population to fail to distinguish it from a solid fake. I think the "is that diamond real?" question is a decent equivalen to the "is that hard drive empty?" one. Using special tools, both can be verified.

Edit: I realize that the hope diamond probably is not art, so my main point has to be about the intrinsic value of the object.

Methinks the Hope Diamond IS art: taking a grungy rock, skill was applied at great cost & risk to turn it into an object for the sole purpose of looking at it. That its value and demand is great speaks for what a great piece of art it is.

Whether the mind perceiving an object is trained to comprehend what is perceived is a different issue from whether the nature of the object can be perceived at all. This is why much of "modern art" is accompanied by several pages of explanation: given the education required, the audience has at least a hope of comprehending what is striking the senses. 4'33" makes some kind of sense given preliminary background/training; "Thidreks" is great literature if one but learns Old Norwegian; a viewer may be persuaded Pollock's paintings are great art ... in all cases, the material is there for perception, and is what it is regardless of training. Most viewers may be unable to discern the Hope Diamond from like-shaped glass, but that's not the cutter's problem - the outstanding beauty is there for the viewing, stifled only by the viewer's mind. You're hard-pressed to fake the Hope Diamond, and a solid fake WOULD share the artistry outside of the intrinsic value.

In this case, there is NOTHING in the exhibit for the audience to perceive. No application of senses can reveal what's there. Plugging it into a computer for conversion to perceptible form may reveal its intrinsic value, but as there is nothing to perceive otherwise then there is no art any more than sticking the Mona Lisa into a welded-shut steel box, covering a sculpture with a tarp, or displaying the Hope Diamond before it was cut to shape.

> "art" is: something which is made/done for the purpose of being perceived

That is actually quite Kantian. But maybe best left there: recommending a normal person look up the 'Critique of Judgement' would be like recommending a normal person read a book on computational type theory . . .

Is it art, then, or is it making a point? I don't deny that something can be both, but it seems to me much of the "crazy modern art" you see only succeeds in making a point, not in being beautiful.

I take it you either think Duchamp's readymades are either beautiful or not art.

Duchamp himself would have argued that e.g. the Duchamp Fountain was not art. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_%28Duchamp%29 Dada was an anti-art movement.

The artist deemed it art, therefore it is. If you're wondering "Why is it art?" realize that you, wondering this, are the very justification of the art. It makes you wonder, it makes you react, therefore it is art.

Art can be almost anything, I've recently read this story:


(sorry I couldn't find it in another language). Basically a visitor of Venetian Biennale left a pack of biscuits in an empty space, took a couple of pictures and suddenly people started queuing at it, trying to find it in the catalogue and taking pictures too.

Without irony, this is really "du grand art".

Simply calling something "art" doesn't make a difference in the actual content of the piece, so we might as well consider every entity as already having that label. Therefore everything/anything is already "art", and the question becomes whether a particular piece is "good" art.

Reminds me of garbage and academia: "Garbage is garbage, but the history of garbage is scholarship"

Here is my creteria for art:

If someone mistaken it as trash and throw it away when cleaning up the gallery, then it is not art.

If trashmen are arguing whether or not a piece is art, then it is borderline art.

If they ignore it, then the art piece is art.

Otherwise, we have no standard at all, and the art world would only belong to elitist who can't draw a damn and status seeking idiot who up the price of a particular 'art piece'.

Beautiful is not in the eyes of the beholder.

  If someone mistaken it as trash and throw it away
  when cleaning up the gallery, then it is not art.
Would a random person from the 1500s who did not grow up with Jackson Pollock as part of acquired culture know that they shouldn't just throw away a Pollock piece that was laying around?

Indeed, there are several examples of museum janitors from present day removing a portion of (or the whole) art thought to be trash. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3604278.stm http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2011/11/swept-away.php

And funnily enough, the reverse scenario played out at least once also. In 2009 in New Zealand a very controversial 1st prize of $15,000 was awarded to artist Dane Mitchell in the Waikato National Contemporary Art competition.

Dane did not even come over to NZ from his residence in Berlin, or send any artwork to the competition. He simply phoned in instructions to the janitor to wait until all the other exhibits had been prepared and their packing and scraps had been cleaned up, and then told the janitor to empty the contents of the rubbish bin and enter it as his sculpture :-)

I do hope he split it with the janitor.

The latter is funny to me, because claiming the removal of paint makes a work "irreparably damaged" just sounds like insurance fraud to me.

The piece could, in theory, be restored to its previous form. But the question comes down to: is the art the result or the process that creates it? If it's the latter, then it can never be properly restored.

See, someone should "know" that it's a piece of art. Just by looking at it wouldn't be enough. Someone has to tell someone else that it's an art. And exactly that type of art is something I cannot digest.

So, Pollock: http://www.terraingallery.org/Pollock-Number-One-1948.jpg

And random art from 1500s: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ec/Mon...

I wouldn't call the first one "art", but perhaps it's just me. So 1500's...

Funny you should make that comparison. The first time I saw a large Pollock drip painting up close is probably one of the most profound art experiences I've had. Seeing it in full scale and being able to truly comprehend the the 3d texturing and layering and dynamics of the work was awe inspiring.

The truly amazing thing about the experience was really how completely by surprise it took me, I had no expectations or pre-conceived notions. I was just walking around the museum and all of a sudden there was this painting that I couldn't take my eyes off of. I probably spend half an hour just standing there studying it.

Conversely seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre left me completely unmoved. I mean don't get me wrong I totally get it's almost unprecedented cultural and historical significance and as an historic artifact I'm really glad I've seen it, and I completely appreciate the amazing skill and craftsmanship that's gone into it. But as Art and as a profound artistic experience it falls far short for me.

That's a terrible argument given that I consider Pollock paintings trash, not art. (Or in other words kiba's criteria is excellent and you just proved it.)

And I'm sure there are a lot of people who agree with me, but less who will say so.

The emperor has no clothes.

And many others who disagree, like me. So how is a completely subjective definition 'excellent'?

I've actually always wondered this, so I might as well ask you.

When I first came across them I was sure it was a joke or a fraud, but people seem serious about seeing some kind of art in them.

So what is it? As best as I can tell it seems to be a form of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

Yes, you could perhaps call it Pareidolia. When I look at the aforelinked image http://www.terraingallery.org/Pollock-Number-One-1948.jpg , I see many things, or rather the hints of things. I have a hard time believing it is not intentional, or that the paint was thrown on canvas at random.

While the form is chaotic, the palette and composition are delectably on target. I am very much reminded of this image: http://cache.foxsaver.com/thumbnails/2008/01/04/205959019l.j...

I don't see any characteristic shapes or figures in them; in fact, I'd say that would detract from it. If it's a sensory experience, a feeling transmitted in a very raw form.

It's something like seeing atonal free jazz.

It is also worth noting that, at least for me, seeing a tiny jpg of a Pollock can in no way compare to actually seeing the real thing. I was totally indifferent to his work right up until the point I stood face to face with an actual painting. The size and 3-dimensional textures and all the other little details that, to me, really make the works great, cannot be translated via an image.

Really a poor definition to be honest with you. Ignoring the questionable premises listed there, it also fails to fully encompass art.

For instance,

Are forgeries art? Are movies art? Is literature art? Is pornography art? Is a pianist playing a piece composed by Liszt an artist? Is cuisine art?

None of these questions are answered by your definition.

> Beautiful is not in the eyes of the beholder.

Art isn't about beauty.

> Otherwise, we have no standard at all,

But there clearly isn't a standard. If there was, there would be somebody trying to break it.

That reminds me of a scene from that animation movie about Iran (Persepolis). There is a scene where someone can not get required heart surgery because the revolutionary party denies it - the person responsible for the decision is the former janitor of the person who needs the surgery.

In the same vein you want to leave it to trash men and cleaning ladies to decide what is valuable culture. I don't think it is a good idea (and I am trying hard to avoid Godwin's law here...).

In all scenarios it's still art. Nobody can disprove that. You can, and should, however debate whether it's good art or not.

That definition is limited to small physical objects. What about 4'33", is it art? What about Christo's works, like wrapping the Reichstag or the Umbrelllas[1] ?

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christo_and_Jeanne-Claude

Or what about Gianni Motti, who created a piece of performance art by walking the length of the Large Hadron Collider?


That's not a very satisfying definition of art. I could put poop on a pedestal[^1] and it would do the same things, even more so. Yet I don't believe you should be calling that art.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist%27s_shit

"Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect" - Wikipedia.

By definition, the shit in a can is also art.

As is the pizza I had last week.

That's not a good definition.

Why not? Culinary art is art. If a crappy painting can be concidered badly made art, your pizza surely can be concidered badly made culinary art, at the very least.

I personally think that anything that was made with intention can be qualified as art; the only things that don't have any artistic merit are thos that are made completely by accident or hapenstance.

That just brings us back to jey's comment. If everything counts as art then the term 'art' has been stripped of meaning and now we need a new term for what used to be called 'art'. It's a waste of time.

There is a world of difference between claiming that something fits the common definition of art and claiming that we need to use an extremely expansive definition of art. I thought the argument here was about the former. If it's about the later then I'll not fight; I'll just note that we're not even discussing the piece and bow out.

By definition, your pizza is very low-grade art. It doesn't have any symbolic significance, it affects only 1 of "senses, emotions, intellect". Otherwise, it fits.

Why does it have to be "art OR not art"? Can't it be a spectrum? Like love? Or beauty? Or any other subjective concept you can think of?

Because when people say that something is art, there is an implied "vs. not art". Otherwise it's a misleading tautology.

Ex. Grey is a color but that doesn't make it a color tv.

It's not that somebody signed a urinal, it's that that urinal was signed. If you can't appreciate art, that doesn't invalidate the artistic statement being made.

Being unique is not by itself enough to qualify something as art, and signing a urinal has no other merit.

I am sure a urinal signed by Steve Jobs would fetch a good price at an auction.

that's one of the most simple and satisfying definitions of art I've read.

I've also found this simple info graphic helpful: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lgxn5uEJox1qbobrso1_500.jp...

He attached links to all of the downloads, that's the ballsiest part about this.


Being an art student I love seeing new modern art like this hit the news. Even though I'm just studying Industrial Design, I always get a kick out of this kind of obscure shit. I'll always remember my trip to NYC last year when I browsed the modern art galleries for hours. If you ever get a chance, there's a particular street lined with them (I forget which). It promises some of the most interesting stuff you've ever seen.

Edit: The downloads seem to be password-protected, so this guy's not a total maniac.

"Art is anything you get away with" is my favourite definition.

The artist should have used the valuation usually claimed by the media companies when dragging young kids to court and he'd have gotten a valuation of somewhere in the billions.

I'm afraid I can't find any other definition of art quite as accurate. I don't know if EVERYONE could say their pirated collection was art, but I think Manuel Palou successfully made his hard drive art.

Frankly, the fact that we're seriously discussing it here is adequate proof that it is art.

Is that question important or interesting?

It is what it is. A one terabyte hard drive that contains illegally downloaded data valued at 5 million dollars. By presenting the drive in a certain way (on a pedestal, with a title, …) certain properties are specifically pointed out.

Is that art? I don’t know. Is it important to answer that question? I don’t think so.

It’s a nice piece all about the value, nature and availability of digital goods, bringing all these aspects together in a nice and compact way. Well done, creator.

This is excellent not only as a question about the intrinsic value of information, but this piece also implicitly, even involuntarily, makes a negative statement about the valuation of conceptual art, of which this piece is an example. I read in this something akin to Epimenides Paradox (i.e. the value of this work is in showing how works like this have no value.)

The question pertaining to whether or not this is really art isn't very interesting. It's an old argument. What I find fascinating are the very passionate arguments against things labeling things like this art, sometimes coming from people who might not even follow art.

The objection must stem from the fact that the term 'art' automatically connotes a cultural/economic value and a signifier of class. There is a legitimate worry that the message from the art world is that you just aren't very impressive if you aren't just infatuated with Kadinsky, De Kooning and, by some perverse extension, Jeff Koons.

Calling something an installation like this art has the value of framing a very, very specific statement: something would be lost by not calling this art. That said, I wouldn't buy this, nor make any effort to see it in person. That would hardly be necessary. Nor would I label someone who didn't 'get' this a 'prole' or 'not with it' (as if my opinion counted.)

Still, this would not be enough to sway one holding on to a conservative definition of art. His or her value as a human being is at stake. Who can blame them? It's a shame, because these political concerns limit art in many thousands of tiny ways with a net result of making a more boring world. I guess politics of status limits activities in many other ways. Nothing new here.

At the "$150,000 per work infringed" valuation, I think one could claim a _much_ larger number. 34 individual songs would break $5 million claimed.

"Controversial work of art skyrockets in value."

Starting out with a calculation based on retail price is pretty shrewd and helps fuel the conversation.

I think what helps make it art is that this artist took this idea, made it into an object (the hard drive with all the data), and then labeled it/made it accessible in such a way that we start to question it differently than if we had just looked at some old hard drive in our room.. So yeah, it's art, but in a sense away from typical mediums like music or painting, etc.

I find it very anti-intellectual when people call others snobs for appreciating art. There's nothing snobbish about learning about or appreciating conceptual art. People who don't care enough to learn about something find that they do not undertand it, conclude that it must be phoney or fake or for snobs.

This comment is art.

Why would it be on a gallery pedestal if it wasn't art?!

If so, I've got ten or so more pieces of art than I previously was aware of.

Can ideas be art? We can't attribute much of any visual aspects of the piece to the artist since the artistic merit of this display relies entirely on the idea of what the drive contains.

Conceptual art dates back to 1917, when Marcel Duchamp first displayed his "fontaine" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_%28Duchamp%29 ). Apparently, nearly 100 years later most people not directly interested in art didn't get it. Modern art museum are filled with similar works.

I'm fine with not getting it. Fountain was the day we learned the art world can no longer pass the test of "The Emperor's New Clothes". Claims of art without craft and a moving beauty are at best disposable props for rhetoric, if not merely trolling gullible collectors.

Art is a social manifestation. In an industrial world where any machined object is more perfect than the best handcraft work, the importance of craft is deemed unimportant by modern art. And beauty is mostly relative, anyway.

Yes, modern art is cynicism and relativism at its best, with a touch of snobbishness... At least, one indisputable advantage is that it pisses off conservatives :)

The most beautiful part about it is that the hard drive doesn't even have to contain the files listed - for all we know it could be completely empty.

If a urinal laid on its back[1] can be considered art, so can an external hard drive placed on a pedestal.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_(Duchamp)

The artwork here is by the original designer(s) of the disk drive enclosure.

Anything with semiotic intent constitutes art. Anyone who says otherwise is a terrorist and needs to go die lonely in a ditch.

The article should have links to the torrents!

The attached pdf actually does have links to the torrents

Lueks like art to me

Someone's ISP must be really pissed~

I think people are missing the point here, whether or not that is art doesn't matter, the question here is if one is allowed to break the law just because "it's art".

Of course not, but that's only relevant if any of the copyright holders decide to sue him.

The deeper question is whether that should be against the law in the first place.

I approve of this incident because it (perhaps not intentionally) pokes fun at art. The argument reveals how silly art really is.

I don't care if it's art or not. Art is such a vague label that calling something "art" is meaningless. A far more meaningful criteria are pretty/not pretty, enjoyable/not enjoyable, or intriguing/not intriguing. Something can be pretty, enjoyable or intriguing without being labeled as art. The term "art" is for people who want to feel superior at the cost of others (snobs).

In my opinion this hard drive is neither.

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