Information Theory

In 1948, Claude Shannon of Bell Telephone Laboratories published two papers on a system he called Information Theory. In his paper Shannon proved that disorder or haphazard noise contains a message. Most interesting of all, Shannon’s math for describing information was identical to  equations devised in the Victorian era to explain entropy. The equation was a mathematical expression of the tendency of all things to become less orderly, suggesting that chaos is the destiny of all things.*

Shannon’s complexity within noise was a major discovery, of a process that operates opposite entropy, that produces new information… otherwise the universe would have shown signs of entropic degradation, become simpler instead of more complex through time. Part of this complexity is redundancy, a self-correcting strategy that Shannon defined as a reality check.

Information can be wrong, mistaken, faulty, and when this occurs it veers into nonsense unless corrected. As Jeremy Campbell wrote in Grammatical Man,  “…since all things in the world have a tendency to become entropic, disorderly, their random deviations from order must be corrected continually.”

We see entropy, this tendency towards chaos and disorder, when Jerry Saltz writes and Benjamin Buchloh says that skill is not required in art.  A reality check will answers Jerry that no amount of de-skilling will bring about the golden age of the simple mind; those lacking skill will never do better than an experienced professional who has acquired mastery of their field. What is done without skill is badly made, an inferior product. Benjamin Buchloh need to brush up on his etymology because the word “art” itself means skill as in the art of writing, the art of conversation, the art of cuisine.

Some believe Duchamp’s found objects proved that we do not need skill.  In fact till the end of his life, Duchamp insisted that found objects were not art, could never be art as they lacked anything we define as art. In any case Duchamp did not invent found objects. Dada artist Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven was using found objects as art a few years before him and she’s also the one who came up with the urinal and entered it in the Independents show, not Duchamp.

Information theory tells us that knowledge needs constant verification, correction, adaptation. The art world has neglected these lessons and it is now time that we verify our assumptions, shake off the lazy thinking of recent decades, shake that tree.

Miklos Legrady

Volume 34 no 4 March/April 2020 p 18

*-Jeremy Campbell, Grammatical Man, p18-19, Colin and Campbell (1982)

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