This Grantmaker Funds Humans Who Critique Art Made By Machines (Kind of Weird, Right?)

When we first came across news that the Santa Fe-based Thoma Foundation gave this year’s Arts Writing Awards in Digital Art to Christiane Paul and Nora Khan, our first thought, naturally, was "Isn't the term 'digital art' an oxymoron?"

We were comforted to know we weren't alone—if by "not alone" you mean someone else on the Internet had the same question.

Now, we won't go into the arguments why digital art is an oxymoron for two reasons. One, you're not here to be lectured on art theory. (Although we do find this argument particularly persuasive: "Art is generally assumed to be 'created' by human beings manipulating physical media or instruments, while digital activities are thought to be semi-automated machine-generated operations.")

And two—and more importantly—it doesn't really matter. Our protestations are irrelevant, antiquated. As evidenced by the Thoma Foundation grant, digitial art isn't going anywhere. What's more, the recent round of grants aren't even for the creators of digital art, but "writers who have made significant contributions to criticism about digital art."

Paul, an adjunct curator of new media arts at the Whitney Museum and an associate professor and associate dean at the New School’s media studies department, will receive $40,000, $10,000 of which is a project grant. This week, she released A Companion to Digital Art, a 632-page book that offers an "up-to-the minute account of digital art’s history." (No word if a reference to this post will be included in the book.)

Meanwhile, Khan's award includes $20,000, $5,000 of which is a project grant. Khan is a contributing editor at Rhizome—recently name-dropped on IP here—and her writing has appeared on that site, Dis magazine, and Kill Screen, among other online and print publications.

And what about the Thoma Foundation? Well, in addition to the digital art writing awards, now in its second year, the grantmaker offers a research fellowship in 20th century abstract painting. It also provides support to organizations in the form of artwork loans—the Art Institute of Chicago, for example, is currently exhibiting some of the foundation's pieces—and grants for various art-related projects. 

By "projects" the foundation means academic programs, exhibitions, lectures, symposia, and publications that provide "promising new insights into the fields of art in which we collect." For more information along these lines click here.

Our prediction? The field of digital art will expand to the point that in six years or so, an IP algorithm will write a post looking at how another algorithm won an award after writing, among other things, a scathing critique of a piece of digital art created by yet another algorithm.

The algorithmic critic's main point of contention? The work was "a bit too cold and mechanical," of course.

Meanwhile in related grant news, check out the Arts Writers Grant Program, courtesy of the Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital, which supports writers whose work addresses contemporary visual art through project-based grants, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, issued directly to twenty individual authors a year.