What is Responsive Art?

Responsiveness is a principle that we come across regularly in our lives, namely any situation or circumstance where exposure to an external stimulus causes a reaction in a living creature, group, species, network or machine. Responsiveness has to do with the quality, nature, form or speed of this reaction. In terms of biological evolution for example, responsiveness plays a role in the ability of a species to respond to changes within the environment.

Responsive Art as I see it can be derived from this paradigm and applied to the creation of art objects: Artworks that respond not only to inner processes of the artist, but also manifest reactions to happenings in the outside world.

Wouldn't it be fascinating to extend this concept to creating works that respond individually to a viewer’s world of thought, to how they are displayed, to changes over time, and to the environments in which they are presented?

The active spectator

Generally the role of visual art lovers is confined to viewing and appreciating works of art. Indeed there were and are off-and-on attempts by artists to involve passive viewers in more active ways, for example as participants in a happening or performance, so transforming the viewer’s role from passive to active.

By their nature, such happenings are bound to time and space. Wouldn’t it be intriguing if works of art offered interaction possibilities for the viewer irrespective of such constraints?

The (ever) changing art work

Artists express themselves through the art that they create, and then bring that art to market when it is completed. Once that art enters the commercial art world, the artist no longer has influence over it.

Wouldn’t it be captivating if his or her work could evolve further over time, so mirroring inner and outer changes – with all chances and dangers that implicate change? Such works would no longer be static, but alive.

The paradox of "unique" copies

No matter how sophisticated or appealing a work of art that is produced as a multiple may be, the fact that it is not one-of-a-kind makes it less desirable than a unique work of art to a lot of people.

If you apply the principles of Responsive Art to an artwork you can create an object that is a copy and a unique original at the same time:

A web page for example could be such a responsive artwork that reacts to the viewer, environment or any other entity. Imagine a web page that when it would be viewed it could "sense" that the viewer would be in Tokyo at 9:15 pm on Sunday, May 11, that it is raining at this moment and that he is – based on his interaction with the artwork – probably male, well educated and in a melancholic mood.

Now, the more nuanced the "senses" of this artwork would be the more specific it could react. You could make an artwork that is so responsive that it existed only for this imagined viewer from Tokyo.

Although this web page would be technically a copy, because it could be viewed by millions of people, it would also be a unique original, since it would react to every viewer individually.

Through "sensing" and interaction this web page would have become a unique artwork.

The web as the perfect medium for Responsive Art

I think Responsive Art gives all the answers to the above questions. And since web pages as artworks provide all the means necessary to display Responsive Art, they are a perfect medium for disseminating it.

Internet Art and especially artwork web pages combined with relatively new devices like VR headsets, AR glasses, smart TVs and smart phones offer virtually unlimited possibilities to create connections between art objects and viewers on numerous levels of perception and reception.

You can see my first version of a responsive artwork: Out of the Cave

April 2018
Last updated January 2020

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