Huxley on machine art

There were, it is true, certain Cubists who liked to paint machines or to represent human figures as though they were the parts of machines. But a machine, after all, is itself a work of art, much more subtle, much more interesting from a formal point of view, than any representation of a machine can be. In other words, a machine is its own highest artistic expression, and merely loses by being s[implified and quintessentialized in a symbolic representation.

— Aldous Huxley, from an essay on Piranesi

Inadvertantly, Huxley is making a strong argument for the artistic potential of computer games. He’s right, I think, that a painting of a machine can only be a shadow of the thing itself. But a game can let you be the creator of the machine, or a cog in the mechanism, to feel from every viewpoint the interconnections of the parts and the necessity of everything being as it is.

[To be fair, Huxley is only talking about still images. Film has a natural affinity for machines — just look at Eisenstein’s fetishism of industry, or even that first Lumiere brothers image of the train arriving. And, as Benjamin points out, there is good reason for this:

…our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject.


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