Behaviourist art and Interactivity

I can’t remember whether it was in this class or another, but someone said something that has been troubling me the whole weekend. “Books are the most interactive medium.” I thought “What?!” How is reading interactive? The words on the page will never change based on my reaction to them. So it was a pleasant surprise to return to Crawford’s The Art of Interactive Design and have this issue dissected by him. I like Crawford’s differentiation (but not distinction) between interactivity and reactivity, and that interactivity is not a defining category but a spectrum. I also thought it was important that he mentioned that interactive art it note essentially superior to reactive media (books, traditional painting), but that they are different beast, and operate on different levels in terms of information transmission.

The Ascott reading helped me to understand why there exists such confusion and debate surrounding interactivity and reactivity. His argument is that we’ve moved away (or are in the process of moving away, I would say) from art that is governed by “deterministic aesthetics.” This means we no longer produce with the wish to send a specific, defined message to a viewer. Instead, we now make art with the purpose of stimulating events and thought processes, an art which is tied to the subjectivities that each viewer can bring to it. But since this is a fairly new shift, I think he’s saying that a difficulty we face is how to avoid using the technological language and media of modern “behaviourist art” with the same determinism of “old” art.

Also, feedback loops are critical.