Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mac Operator

The way artists make art often reflect the means of production of their age. The artist of feudalism was an artisan or alchemist, the Renaissance artist was adept at mathematics and geometry inspired by trade and war, and Andy Warhol’s factory embodied the spirit of mass production.

If you looked in the jobs pages in the early 1990s, you’d see adverts for “Mac Operators”. A Mac Operator would use the only Apple Macintosh in the company to do design work using Illustrator, Photoshop and Quark at a low rate of pay.

When I got to art school at around that time I begged and borrowed access to Macs to make art using Photoshop and Illustrator. I acted out the role of the Mac Operator (rather than alchemist, merchant or factory worker) without realising it to make art.

The Mac Operator is a kind of knowledge worker. Knowledge work is post-industrial work. Another example of post-industrialism is brand-based outsourcing. The production of Jeff Koon’s artistic brand is outsourced. But Koons is a manager rather than a worker.

Mac Operators were representative producers of mass culture at that time. But Web 2.0 means that everyone can now use a computer to produce culture as part of the crowd. Outsourcing has become crowdsourcing. Mac Operators, like sign painters, are not now a contemporary phenomenon.

I started out remixing images, and I continue to do so, aided now by the Creative Commons licences so beloved of Web 2.0. I am still sat at a computer producing art as an individual, rather than using the crowd to do so. But I am using a GNU laptop rather than a Power Mac desktop system.

The laptop-based knowledge work figure is the “laptop warrior” or the Bay-area coffee-shop wifi leeching “bedouin”. These are the people who start the Web 2.0 companies and web applications that the crowd use to produce their culture.

So I haven’t ended up as far from the contemporary creative practice of computing as I’d feared. And I’m not criticising artists who mimic Web 2.0 strategies without adding anything to them, when I do criticise them, from a position of historical irrelevance. I’m just reflecting a different aspect of current computer-based production.

On Hipsterism

Adbusters have noticed hipsterism:


We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation

Apparently The The aren’t on Gnutella.

K-punk has a good critique of the article and Hipsterism in general that is well worth reading in full:


the problem with “hipsters” is precisely that they are pathologically well-adjusted, untroubled by sexual anxieties or financial worries. Vulgar Freudianism is not without its point – where is the motivation to produce art in people who can get any satisfaction they want, at any time? The very seamlessness of these unalienated, guilt-free lives leaves no material for sublimation.

I loathe hipsterism, but what else *can* there be in a society where most of the history of mass culture is a mouse click away and where everyone can broadcast their lives (also with a click of the mouse) in a way that only mass media personalities could previously? The cultural smog of the post-Napster Internet works against the scarcity and instant obsolescence that defined previous mass culture.

And besides, the aim of youth culture has always been to upset the eldsters. 😉 Punk parents would need something pretty radical to upset them. The laid-back ambient historicism of hipsterism certainly does the trick if its lack of something new is something new.

I remember watching a 1960s documentary from Swinging London that announced in a voice-over that “The Forties Are Back”. As a kid in the late 80s, 60s psychedelia was big with my cooler friends. The past has always been big. And postmodernism was an 80s thing.

If it’s not the case that hipsterism is just the usual 20-year cycle hitting 80s postmodernism and sample culture then perhaps the hipster generation is just the first with both the economic and technological power to beat the twenty year limit.

(Extended from a comment on Art Fag City.)

Adam Frisby » Blog Archive » OpenSim, C#, Standards, Patents and you.

http://www.adamfrisby.com/blog/2008/08/opensim-c-standards-patents-and-you/A brilliant blog post that answers many of the concerns I raised about OpenSim’s use of C#.A couple of points.

If Microsoft decide to add new extensions onto .NET (which they have done with every major release), the OpenSim developers are content to wait until those extensions are available under Mono (which moves fast enough that it isn’t a major problem).

Does this mean that there will be elements of Mono, used in OpenSim, that will not be included in the ECMA standard and potentially will not be covered by Microsoft’s patent pledges?

Java is a beast of a language that has had layers of gunk added in every revision resulting in a hodge-podge of inconsistently named items in the standard library that may, or may not address what you want. The second major reason is that the C# standard library is both larger and more functional – the amount of time and effort the Base Class Library has saved is astonishing.

I got fed up with Java with the 1.1 release (Swing and inner classes were turds), so I hold no brief for Java. C# looks like it has some nice CLOS-style accessor magic. I would be surprised if C# has better libraries in aggregate (including the net rather than just out of the box), though.

k-punk: I am angry, I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin…


Whereas I would say the opposite: the problem with “hipsters” is precisely that they are pathologically well-adjusted, untroubled by sexual anxieties or financial worries.

I don’t resent web 2.0 kiddies doing what net.artists used to. I object to careerist net.artists using them as human shields.

huge and important news: free licenses upheld (Lessig Blog)

Excellent news:


I am very proud to report today that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (THE “IP” court in the US) has upheld a free (ok, they call them “open source”) copyright license, explicitly pointing to the work of Creative Commons and others. (The specific license at issue was the Artistic License.) This is a very important victory, and I am very very happy that the Stanford Center for Internet and Society played a key role in securing it. Congratulations especially to Chris Ridder and Anthony Falzone at the Center.

This kind of precedent is very important for persuading corporate and institutional clients to use Free Culture licences.

Surgical Strike Free Software

“Surgical Strike” was a 1996 art computing project concerned with the social history of art computing. “Surgical Strike Free Software” is a 2008 reimplementation of the original project.

Computing has trickled down from military applications through corporations to universities and finally into art practice. This history is present in the language and social assumptions of computing. This culture sits uncomfortably with the culture of art, or at least it should. Surgical Strike depicts these contradictions in the form of ironized computer art in order to make them explicit.

The source materials for Surgical Strike were military jargon, the art of William Latham (due to its status as paradigmatic “computer art” at the time), 3D models of stealth aeroplanes, 1990s computer software logos, and verbal descriptions of awkward facts from the history of commercial computing. The swirly structures of stealth bombers replaced the innocent spheres and cylinders of Latham’s computational Darwinism with more significant forms. The texturing of these forms with commercial trademarks rather than procedural textures was another level of indexicality. These were then sandwiched between texts describing things the computer industry would rather forget in the background and the source code for the depicted form asserting its primacy and interfering with the unreflective consumption of the image in the foreground.

The composition of the images produced with the original system was probably based, unconsciously, on Art & Language’s “Hostages” series. The idea of an indexical computer programming language came, again unconsciously, from PJH Halls at KIAD. The project came to me fully formed as I walked to the CEA at Middlesex University early on the morning that I desperately needed to have a project to start.

Surgical Strike proper is a toy programming language for creating patterns of textured 3D objects. The keywords of the language are intended to sound militaristic. Although Surgical Strike can use any 3D models or textures, it is intended to use models of military artefacts and images of software logos. The language features iteration but not branching or even variables so it is not Turing complete.

The original version of Surgical Strike was written in C++ using Apple’s QuickDraw 3D for Power Macintosh on Mac OS 7.x . The parser was hand-written and compiled programs were executed using a bytecode format inspired by the public documentation of Display PostScript. Given the unmaintainability of this code and possible rights issues the current version has been written from scratch.

Surgical Strike is not anti-militaristic except to the extent that it works with the assumptions of the cultures it is targeted at. Those cultures were idealistic mid-1990s art computing and mid-1990s art criticism ignorant of the content of art computing. The title is a piece of military jargon that served to illustrate the gap between depiction and reality. But the gap that it indicated was in the target cultures, not (neccessarily) between the ideals and reality of militarism.

Free Culture Failage: Wizards Of The Coast

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is the original and still the most popular role-playing game. At the end of the 1990s the original publisher of D&D collapsed and the game was bought by a new publisher, Wizards of the Coast (WotC). Part of their strategy for rescuing the game was a mixed copyleft-with-uncopyable-sections licence called the Open Gaming Licence (OGL) that allowed people to copy the text of the rules of D&D and to produce and sell their own work using it. The OGL gave the game playing public and publishers of third-party tie-ins for D&D the confidence to invest in the brand without fear that it would disappear if the new publisher failed to make a success of it. It also made those gamers and publishers drivers for sales of D&D products by WotC.

The mixed copyleft of the OGL was controvercial and WotC’s relationship with third party publishers was not always an easy one. But the strategy of using alternative licencing to build confidence in and network effects for the D&D brand was a success.

WotC have just released their latest new edition of D&D. It is excellent, with improved game rules, writing and graphic design. But what may not be improved is WotC’s licencing strategy for the game. Months after the launch of the new edition, the replacement for the OGL has not been released and there are rumblings that it may be restrictive and exploitative, destroying the trust and network effects that were the core value of the OGL to WotC and the gaming public.


Whether by accident or design, the new GSL (Game System License) the replacement for the 3E OGL (Open gaming License) is incredibly restrictive in that it has a few provisions that when combined together create a legal nightmare of potential Intellectual property loss.[…]
Necromancer has apparently backed out of the d20 biz. And now a bunch of the second and third tier d20 companies are quickly moving in to take their place. And at least one of them is playing with fire by putting out books early under fair use laws before switching to the GSL on the starting date everyone else is being held to (October 1st.)

To produce a more restrictive replacement for the OGL will destroy the very value that it trying to avoid losing. The stakes are not low, it is possible that the D&D community could “fork” over this. This would lose WotC far more money than just continuing to support the OGL and the strategy that has made their new versions of D&D such a success.

If what AICN are saying is true then Wizards of the Coast are not facing an external marketing problem or a public perception problem with the GSL, they are facing an internal catastrophic failure to understand the OGL strategy. They should not be looking to correct the flaws in the GSL. They should tell their legal team, their management team, or whoever is driving this that the GSL will not stop people making money by selling cheap replacements for the core D&D rulebooks to people who wouldn’t buy them anyway. It will just stop the people who would buy the core D&D rulebooks from WotC to run games with those people from having a reason to do so.

When a company is more focussed on stopping other people making money than making money itself, it’s time to start worrying. And unless they place the new D&D back under the OGL, it will be time to start worrying about WotC.

Tom Moody

Tom Moody is a talented New-York-based visual artist with a penchant for bitmap imagery. He can draw more expressively in Microsoft Paint than I can with a box of soft pastels, and his use of this skill in such a restrictive medium to pull in fine art and low culture references is good stuff. Solving the technical problems of representing the forms that society creates is what art is about.

Tom’s image work is an embodiment of the current forms and means of production of internet-based society. But, and this is crucial, it is phrased unavoidably in terms of art history and artistic production that mean it would fail as simple web illustration. It is too interesting and has too much internal complexity. It makes a context for itself. History, problem solving and interiority are anathema to the easy post-historical consumerist cool of Web 2.0.

Tom’s pixels-as-symbolic-form MS Paint drawings of graffitti, or of found image elements then mixed in with art-historical precedents, present the viewer and critic with work to do both visually and conceptually. They are vivid and timely images without being tricksy or issue-illustrating. These stand-alone pieces are where I feel the best of Tom’s work is. You can gain a lot of insight into contemporary culture by looking at them.

Free Culture Failage : Girl Talk

Why does Girl Talk, the hipster Jive Bunny, have an NC licence on his latest work? NC for sampling musicians is fail, doubly so when they are selling the work.

Running Your Own OpenSim Sim

I’ve found it surprisingly easy to get started running OpenSim. Here are some good guides to going beyond just starting a sim.


A good collection of resources.


How to get your own OpenSim hosting for 15USD a month.


How to use OpenSim with MySQL.