Is art invented or discovered?

One of philosophy of science and mathematics long lasting question is to decipher if knowledge is invented or discovered.

What is the difference ? For this essay, we will say that something is invented when the decisions leading to the creation are arbitrary; and discovered when they do not depend on who made the decision, when two different people would have reached the same conclusion.

I would like to bring the question of invented vs discovered to the art world.

I think this question is relevant, especially in the context of generative arts: let’s say I would like to escape copyright claims by generating all the possible images, or every possible melody - as some programmers did. Although this make take time - we are speaking years here - it is technically do-able. We could write a short program to do this - this program will generate all images of 24x24 pixels. I do not recommand running this program, as generating at the rate of one image by second will take approximately 303 years ((2424255255255)/60/60/24/365 = 302.86) to run the program.

Now, have I created these images or have I discovered them?

I definitely created a process that will create images - or as Sol LeWitt would have said, “the idea becomes the machine that creates the art”. I also definitely did not come up with each image in an individual way - each image was discovered by the same process. Could we say that I have discovered a way of creating images ? Maybe - does it fit the definition of not involving an arbitrary choice ? Not really. There are many different ways that we can come up with similar programs aimed at creating generated images in a systematic way, and I definitely made some arbitrary choices.

As reference, let’s explore the same ideas but for mathematics. Is mathematics invented or discovered ? We will need to tweak the definitions. Here by invented, we mean that the ideas do not have a life of their own, and by discovered, we usually mean that they exists outside of the human mind. If mathematics are invented, it means that different humans or living beings could arrive at different mathematics; mathematics are subjective. If mathematics are discovered, it means that mathematical truths exists outside of our mind, that they have a logical of their own, that they are objective. There are further debates when it comes to the ontology of mathematics, fascinating debates (see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for a start), but this will suffice for this essay.

Let’s come back to art with these ideas. If art is invented, then different humans or living beings should arrive at different arts. If art is discovered, then art truths exists outside of our mind, they have a logic of their own, they are objective.

What I feel that is happening is that art is both, or art is neither - that this question is irrelevant. Art is closer to economy or history, as a science, that is, it is an ongoing experiment that cannot possibly be replicated. Art is exploring a vast field of possible images, and choosing one of them without having seen all images, all possible images, all of the other images that could have been.