Information, art and meaning: Painting as a post-saturation discipline

Pieter Adriaans, University of Amsterdam


There is no doubt that the theories of information and computation are valuable tools for the analysis of objects of art and their production. They help us to model the cognitive processes involved in the understanding and appreciation of art that take place in our brain. They can even give us insight in the cultural and historical structures that govern the development of art over longer periods in time. In my lecture(s) I will discuss a number of these issues. It can be doubted, however, that theory of information can explain the phenomenon of meaning as it emerges in the individual human consciousness and the related emotions that works of art generate. At best information theoretical analysis seems to reveal correlations between meaning and the information content of data sets, but there seems to be no straight forward syntactical relationship.
In my talk I will, for the first time, discuss these issues in the context of my own work as an artist. Painting is an interesting form of art since, from an information theoretical point of view, its conceptual space appears to be saturated: everything has been done already, the amount of images we are confronted with every day is staggering. There are more saturated art forms (pop-music, classical music, the blues solo, photography, classical dance). Probably every form of art will reach such a stage in the future. Still it seems to be possible to make new paintings of extraordinary strength and meaning. There is a chasm between the conceptual analysis of art and its meaning. This creates a new space of possibilities and freedom for the artists working in such “post-saturation” disciplines.

“I still believe in the old Renaissance ideal of the universal man, not in the sense of knowing everything about everything but as the ambition to understand universal structures from different perspectives.”
Over the years Pieter Adriaans (1955) has built up an impressive unusually broad oeuvre that varies from paintings and sculptures to installations, books, papers and musical compositions. This achievement is remarkable given the fact that Adriaans also has a masters in philosophy, a PhD in theoretical computer science and has, together with his business partner Dolf Zantinge, founded a very successful computer company. He is part-time professor of learning and adaptive at the University of Amsterdam.

Adriaans got his first drawing lessons at the end of the sixties from the well-known painter Jacobus Koeman in Bergen aan Zee. In 1971, at the age of sixteen he was accepted as a student at the St. Joost School of Fine Art and Design, but, being disappointed by lack of interest in the technical aspects of drawing and painting at this institute he decided to combine the development of his talents with a thorough intellectual training. Ever since this time he has combined a scientific career with artistic activities. In the seventies he was member of Teekengenootschap Pictura, in Dordrecht. He got painting lessons from G.E. Meertens, and from J. Van Kesteren. He studied philosophy (and some mathematics) in Leiden from 1976 till 1983, the Netherlands, under Nuchelmans and van Peursen. Under guidance of Prof. Marcel Fresco he studied the philosophical works of the Dutch poet Johan Andreas D�r Mouw (1863-1919), who had a major impact on his ideas on art and science. In 1981 he discovered the work of the twelfth century sculptor known a the �Ma�tre de Cabestany� whose freedom of deforming the human body has been vital in the development of his style. In the eighties he started research into knowledge based systems and logic programming. This culminated in to the founding of the software company Syllogic in 1989. The success of this company allowed Adriaans to further explore the interplay between art and science. Eight years, later when Syllogic was a leading firm in data mining artificial intelligence and systems management with offices in Holland, Dublin, London and California, it was sold to Perot Systems Inc. This allowed Adriaans to take up one of his most ambitious projects up: Robosail, the building and exploitation of a self-learning racing yacht. This high profile project ran successfully from 1997 till 2007. In 1992 got his doctorate at the university of Amsterdam and in 1998 he was appointed professor of learning and adaptive systems at the same institute. Over the years his research interest has shifted towards complexity theory, philosophy of information and meaningful information. In the years 2000 and 2001 he visited the Vrije Academie in The Hague were he got lessons from Ed van der Kooy, Pien Hazenberg en Marijke Verhoef. Since then he has developed his own style of painting. Using multiple layers of acrylics paint he creates large radiant canvasses in his characteristic robust handwriting. These paintings are greatly appreciated by a growing group of admirers. Pieter and his wife Rini live in Kockengen in the Netherlands and part of the year on the island of Sao Jorge, one of the Azores.