Thursday, 10 July 2008

Entropy and art: resisting the probable

Martin Creed's Work No. 850

Nutritious food is highly improbable, i.e. farthest from entropy, and we import the organised energy it contains in order to maintain our own equilibrium far from entropy, and avoid death. Therefore, in biological and evolutionary terms, we would be predisposed to be attracted to objects that are highly improbable. Simplistically put, beauty lies in the least probable arrangement of matter.

Works of art might conform to this criteria — insofar as they embody prodigious amounts of skill (effort in relation to time) to produce. This makes them highly improbable, at least in the case of the best. The fact that some works of art appear to require little or no skill to produce — in the traditional sense — may lead some to deny their value. However, any contemporary artists who attract such criticism use their skill and knowledge to play a different game. Using the well-established expectations of the viewing public they design events that are highly improbable within the context of art, and its normal codes of presentation.

One might say of an artwork, "Given what I know about art it is unlikely that x constitutes a work of art", and the skill of the artist lay in manufacturing something that confounded this expectation. From the artist's point of view, they are just doing what artists have always done: producing artefacts that resist the probable.