A look at art from the perspective of the Infinite Monkey Theorem.
The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.
See what we can learn from watching the monkeys doing their thing and how it relates to us doing our thing even better.
A million monkeys on a million typewriters can do everything. But they can't do it twice. Repetition, repeating a theme, counters the arbitrary. Creating restrictions, and repeating, treating the same subject over and over -- arbitrary decreases, and the monkeys have no chance. Welcome to the internet.
In this short exercise, let's look at art from the perspective of the Infinite Monkey Theorem.
The quest for meaningful creation. The question is one of quantity vs. quality. And it really is a fight of quality against quantity. That's what makes it so hard because a million is a huge quantity. To get an early advantge in the fight, the more precise question is, what can't a million monkeys do?
Even if the million monkey army manages to bring up something great, what's the chance for them to do it again? Exactly. What makes it easy to deal with the monkeys, they are not really stringing together their keystrokes, they are basically hitting one key at a time, sequentially, ad infinitum. There is no growing body of work, no vertical development, just horizontal amassing, similar to sand in the desert.
Arbitrary or non-arbitrary, to appreciate art, it needs to talk to me. I need to see an idea, a motivation, what made you do it?
Deliberate repetition is different from random, arbitrary repetition. By creating a true,
self-relating sequence, by introducing an element of repetition of something, the dreaded arbitrary recedes and the monkeys have no chance to pass for real intelligence.
Thus, to beat the monkeys, you not only have to create two unique things, instead, you need to create two instances of one unique thing.
Deliberately and repeatedly treating the same subject over and over, it is the restrictive environment which evolves almost by itself and always produces surprises, despite and because of, repetition.
Adding repetition or restriction of some kind, the monkeys' chance goes way down.
Restrictions refine design. Without restrictions, it's too easy -- and again -- too arbitrary. Especially for the monkeys. Finding youself in that unlucky place with no restrictions whatsoever, you should think about inventing some artificial boundaries...
Restrictions lead to creating originals -- make something that is irreproducible, a Polaroid is an original while a photographic or Giclée print is not. Lithographs and similar techniques create originals as well. The point here, is not to prevent reproduction, but instead to create unique originals with a much higher intrinsic value. I want a fingerprint, not as a flaw, but as a mark of uniqueness of each item in a series.
I always loved Kufi calligraphy, a form of script consisting strictly of straight lines and angles, exaggerating verticals and horizontals. Similarly, with old school graffiti you created a set of rules and stuck with it to stay
Here again, the boundaries of the rules are where it's at. Also, repetition changes, ligatures rock, and any sufficiently intelligent idea has the inherent means to inspire new shapes with traceable genes leading back to a non-arbitrary, non-monkey, origin.
Noise. What's the difference between signal and noise? More noise equals more signal? Really? The more noise is produced, the harder to discern the signal -- if any.
The deliberate elimination of noise, an elaborate and creative process by itself, is powerful enough to create distinctive signal, thus freeing value through structuring and restricting noise.
Noise is economically unbearable at the point where creating signal is cheaper than mining it in infinite noise.
Being a fan of an artist is not necessarily the same as being a fan of their work. Most often, it correlates inversely. It's the difference between perception
Quality doesn't come from sheer output alone, you need intention and context to make distinctive quality. Context makes you relate your creations to other creations. It picks up reference points and produces commentary, tangents, or spin-offs of preceding works.
Quantity or quality? Quality is never arbitrary, it is hard to achieve and harder to find. Great quality is too often hidden. The task with quality is to give it exposure, at the same time quantity needs to be contained. The trick is to create a market for quality -- and reinvent it every time quantity creeps in.
Monkeys need time. Beating them is beating time. The faster you are at unique creation, the smaller the chance for the monkeys to come up with something sensible.
What's easier than working and betting against infinity? Nothing. Why? Infinity is that hard to imagine. As is context, time is either a sequence of inter-depending events, actions, and creations, or a succession of unrelated instances -- which are essentially worthless because any potential connections are ignored.
Another factor is the effect of delaying output. Infinitely typing away vs. holding it up for some time makes a difference that shows in reducing quantity, especially in reducing the drowning of quality -- if there is any to begin with. (See above, and below.)
While random is great in ideation, in inspiration, and in seeding creation; structure and structuring plays a big role in selection, in revisions, and in completion.
In general, I don't care -- but in particular, I do care obsessively. Perfectionism, details, research, expression.
Interestingly, the monkeys, while being able to replicate any work of art or creation in general, they won't produce any specific, original creation. It needs to be discovered -- a determination of value from the outside.
Imagine an artist being
discovered after his demise -- obviously, something was lacking while he was still around. But does this fact diminish his -- at the time, apparently -- vain effort?
Excellence is one of the really hard to emulate and almost impossible to simulate traits.
I adore intelligence, it's like true excellence: You notice it when you see it.
Accidental excellence sounds like an oxymoron -- it will have to be repeated, recreated in another instance, removing the accidental part to give way to true excellence. Excellence comes from repetition and is repeatable.
The monkeys are and operate unrelated to one another. How would a setting involving insight and mutual awareness influence the potential results? Meaningful communication? Copycat monkeys? Sharing of information? Comprehension? Meaning isn't derived from incomprehension.
Information is bred through context, also, ideas need to bounce, with at least one of the parties involved having some kind of a plan, some sort of comprehension, and a sense of meaning.
It's not so much where an object is made than why it is made. Also, for whom something is made might be significant. Why, when, and for whom, are all relevant -- as opposed to where.
Acting out of character is harder than it sounds -- talk about chasing shadows, or tails. Whatever, you are what you are.
Content is of importance, art today is more copying and mirroring than thesis and synthesis, at least conceptually. An effect is cheap, but expressing a clear message is where it gets tricky. This is quite powerful because you can't stop developing your style and craft as long as your message isn't perfectly clear. And it's a moving target.
Medium or message? Nobody pays attention to actual content. Only personal context counts. That's the point, the medium is irrelevant -- except for the monkeys -- and the message is irrelevant unless it is for you.
Artistically, I can't stand the arbitrary in collages. ... then again, my vinyl work is some kind of collage, you could say. But it's not -- layers of vinyl, just as well as layers of paint, do not make a collage per se.
Style or content? We try to cleanly divide presentation and content, then again, what works better: A presentation without content or content without any presentation? Is manner really more important than matter? You can cater to any audience with the former and divide any audience -- highlighting quality -- with the latter approach. Poor monkeys.
Art, on the wall, is ideally an ongoing, continuous inspiration. You can never fully grasp it, you can try to embrace it, but full grasp will always remain elusive, that's the point and the magic of a true piece of art. Try that, monkeys!
You don't have to be an artist to value art. Also, you don't need a grand art theory to be a great artist -- and vice versa.
Creation, in general, comes from imagination. Imagination is probably the one individual trait, at the same time, imagination is the meta-language, though not universally understood. Artists are translators, matching and multiplying different types of imagination. Yours and mine.
Making the invisible tangible and the incomprehensible a little bit more self-evident. Also, artists temper unlimited imagination -- Imagine being able to imagine anything... Making the indigestible more palatable.
Creative research is blue skies research rooted in insatiable, raw curiosity and the urge to create something.
The why is more important than the how. The monkeys are never going to be able to answer why they wrote what they wrote. You do. Why is the motor, unlimited imagination and creative thinking are the perfect foundation for elaborate crime, paranoia, insanity, or great art and entrepreneurship. Why is the decision.
Monkey art is the end of art, the end of expression. Which makes the monkeys a suitable and much needed catalyst. Clearly -- neither art, nor type, not even print are dead. It takes more, much more, than a couple of monkeys creating unbearable noise to kill art.
The end of art -- and type, and print -- is ultimately its fulfillment in a different medium or state.
God -- and the difference -- is in the details.
You do art when you make change that matters, and do it via a connection with an individual.---Seth Godin
Ultimately, beating a million monkeys is neither cruel, nor unfair.
We tend to be fascinated by stuff that seems to get us without context, unexpectedly, and apparently unrelated. Surprise me, monkeys.
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