Manovich, L. (2007). Abstraction and Complexity. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Lev Manovich is Professor at the Visual Arts Department at UC, San Diego, a Director of the Software Studies Initiative at California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and a Professor at European Graduate School. He teaches new media art and theory, software studies, and digital humanities. He’s authored Software Takes Command (2008), Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database (2005), and The Language of New Media (2001).

In this essay, Manovich traces two concurrent modernist reductions and ‘complexifications’ from the 19th century. From 1860-1920, modern art streamlined the image, reducing it to abstraction. Likewise, physics, chemistry and neuroscience all discovered foundational elements, deeper scientific truths. However, at the same time and into the 20th century, Freudian psychoanalysis, quantum physics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, etc. all underscored the world’s deeply complex constitution: “the sciences of complexity seem to be appropriate in a world that on all levels–political, social, economic, technical–appears to be more interconnected, more dynamic, and more complex than before” (346).

So, the big question is, how can we adequately represent this complex world? Manovich submits that software-generated

“symbolic representations . . . seem to quite accurately and at the same time poetically capture our image of the new world” (352).

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Media Arts, Minor Field, Research Fields

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