A few weeks ago I ran into Sumana at my company’s coworking space. We started chatting about art of py. Art of py was an incredibly successful event that Sumana put on at pycon 2019 to showcase performances based around the culture of technology.
In full disclosure I presented a monologue on creating the prayer blockchain, that Sumana has described as something like a moth storytelling piece. I will put a link to it.
But more interesting was the discussion Sumana and I had the coworking space about tech and art. When most people talk about tech art, people talk about art created by technology. Examples of this are things like Deep Dream, machine learning algorithms that generate visual art, or realtime music generation like what happens in the algorave scene, or poetry or literary experiment, or even cartographic performance art pieces. I have discussed this before in the blog, and have even coded up some experiments.
But for Art of Py, the focus was on art that reflects on technology, not art created by technology. It is the creation of a culture around technological creation. Sumana mentioned that actuaries have events where there are songs and skits about being an actuary. In literature there are a plethory of campus novels. Gothic cathedrals are homages to the papacy. Culture is culture of a profession. Perhaps it is intended to glorify the profession, in some cases in order to maintain a certain power structure. But culture, mythology, fiction is around certain experiences.
Back to culture…
The idea of one culture, a high culture, or of a high and low culture is the historical narrative. Marx famously thought that the proletariate would not be able to create its own culture and this would aid in alienation and the ensuing revolution. I am pointing to an interesting paper by Trotsky, who gives one interpretation of this point.
As it turned workers developed a rich culture. And it was not a generic workers culture but cultures – from workers papers to Pete Seeger. Now we could call this low culture, or folk culture, but we have so many cultures – the farmer, the factory worker, the wage slave in a Theodore Dreiser book, the prostitute/sex worker. In the 21st century every profession can create its own culture; where to forge within the “smithy of his soul the uncreated conscious of his race”, means the uncreated conscious of their profession.
We could track the end of a workers culture with the rise of the managerial class, with operations research, fordism and MacNamara. We can only tell a story while a profession is still on the gnarly edge of professionalization. While the workers still have a hand in the creation of the narrative rather than being commodified by a bureaucracy. What is the conscious of the tech worker?
We can create algorithmic or tech aided art to help shape the representation of this narrative, but we cannot use it to create the meaning of the narrative. If we think about what tech art is (in the first sense) it looks like it would be culture by and for computers. But I am interested in what it feels like to be a programmer, either a yeoman, a journey man or a master.
As painting became an art, and painters regarded as geniuses, we see the rise of the self portrait. What is the self portrait of the programmer?
This is what Sumana and I discussed, the need for tech workers, project managers, customer success agents, engineers, and so forth, to create a narrative language around their work. We are the ones building the cathedrals, maybe the stain glassed windows should reflect our own mythology.