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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ostranenie - Crossover between Art and Programming

It looks like that I have to say something at a camp next week. So I trumped up the most easy topic for me, the art. For me, the art is very common and familiar thing that I spent a lot of time to discuss such matter in my youth. And more importantly, it is somewhat strange topic for colleagues. I hope it will be fun.

One of the most important functions in the art is ostranenie. Ostranenie is a term coined by Russian critic Shklovsky, which means looking a familiar things in unfamiliar ways to find a unexpected side of the subject. For example, most surprising thing for a student who learns a sketch first time was there are no outlines in the world. Young kids often draw an outline to express the mom's face. But reality is that a human brain extracts an outline from a contrast of of light and shade.

Also a programmer often faces ostranenie. A human tends to think based on an intuition. But a computer only obeys logics, it never cares about human's common sense or intuition. The conflict often cause errors. But the errors give us precious ideas that we have never noticed. Human beings have developed common sense and intuition through the long history and culture, so it is very difficult to perceive a difference between logic and intuition without a computer.

We can regard the invention of computer in philosophy as the invention of photograph in the history of art. The invention of photograph provided an artist first different eyes beside human's. And it brought Impressionism in 19th. Likewise, we met another kind of brain for the first time by computers. No one knows what is born from there because the history of computer is still young. But we can explore new directions in terms of ostranenie.


  1. Love the analogies! I hadn't thought about how computers might help the human race to reexamine our common sense. Very thought provoking.

  2. Epiphany is also a word to describe a sudden realization.

    I also like Paul McCarthys description of a state of mind you can reach when run down a hill as fast as you can and as you go faster and faster you realize you are loosing control and you are part of an other reality.

    Computers are a great tool for art but they are kind of a slow medium where result may lay thousands of hours ahead as interesting systems tend to be very complex systems. Very few artists are in for the long haul. Great to see your work.

  3. Isn't it 'oTstranenie'? Looks like Russian word "отстранение" for me.

    NB I'm not being picky, just find this word an essential part of this post. Sorry if I am wrong.

  4. In WikiPedia, defamiliarization or ostranenie are translations of остранение ( But I'm not sure how often these word are used as I couldn't find them in a dictionary. And even I don't know the pronunciation! In Japanese it is called 異化, and the word is used very often among modern art and comedy.

  5. I guess this is a made-up word which wasn't used before Shklovsky. "Otstranenie" is more familiar to a Russian ear and means "creating or increasing distance". But "ostranenie" (without t before s) is a different word, literally meaning "making something strange or stranger". In Russian "strange" is "stranny" (странный) and word ending "-enie" usually means a process.

    Making something stranger is making it less familiar, so defamiliarization is a good translation.

    Ostranenie pronounces os-tra-nE-nee-ye.

  6. Hi thedeemon, Thank you for the comment! It's good to know the pronunciation eventually. And I'm more curious about Shklovsky's works.


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