Art does not exist because of artworks, on the contrary because of art there’s need of art works. Only the necessity of artwork is the fundament of possibility for the artist – M. Heidegger, “The origin of the Work of Art”

During the 30′s, Martin Heidegger dedicated a series of conferences to artwork that would have led on to writing of the essay “The origin of the Work of Art “, published in 1950.

Seventy years later, Heidegger reflection on art and its essence becomes fundamental again to understand modalities that turn software used to produce art into an artwork itself, opposing its autarkical vocation towards digital code, the do-it-yourself tendency, the logic of free software to what Heidegger defines as the artistic industry. Heidegger thought on art truth gives nowadays a fresh reading key to interpret both the actual contraposition between the concept of software as tool (present in all the artistic ambits) and work (artwork), and the strongly political contraposition, inside the software culture, between traditional art market and software art.

In his research on origin and essence of artwork (therefore the art itself), the German philosopher rejected an aesthetic reading of the work concept, negating the allegorical (saying something else about the artwork) and symbolical (work as representation) function classically attributed by the occidental philosophy, renouncing to consider as traditional the dichotomies shape-matter and shape-content. Heidegger says art is not about aesthetic concept of beauty and not even about the problem of human experience (Erlebnis). The way art is lived by men defines its essence. The experience is an original criterion not only of the artistic movement, but also of the work production. Everything is lived experience. But lived experience may also be the element that is killing art. This murder is slow at the point that it needs some centuries to be carried out.


Far from being an imitation, representation or symbol of transcendent meanings, Heidegger artwork is most of all matter. It is the materiality of the matter. The association of a form to a matter (better say, of a matter to a shape, as particular outlines need particular matters to be realized) is part of the universe Heidegger defines as middle, things created with a goal, a precise function, things that must have a precise usability. The type of form and the choice of the right matter converge in this ease of use as well as the predominance of the matter and shape connection. The entity under it is the product of a direct fabrication always intended as a middle-for-something. As determinations of the entity, matter and form link to the middle being.

Heidegger distinguishes mere things (a granite block), middles and works. If the occidental thought doesn’t understand the essence of each element, it is art that reveal the nature of the entities, the thingliness of things and the equipmental being of equipment. Heidegger uses the well-known Van Gogh painting of peasant shoes to explain how does the artwork leads to understand the nature of that object, emptied by its functionality. The painting reveals the equipmental being of the equipment during its non-employment. It reveals its Verlässigkeit (reliability), by virtue of which “the farmer entrust, through the equipment, in the silent appeal of the land; by virtue of equipment reliability he is sure of his world”.

n the work, there’s a sort of unveiling of what the equipment (shoes) are. Revealing the thingness of things, art highlights the relationship between World (being close, the block of things, the non functional) and Earth (being open, where things are harmoniously in a functional relation). The Heidegger concept of Earth implicitly alludes to the tradition of human-nature relationship, to an archaic order, to a system that hides itself from human rationality, to the technical progress. Vice versa, Earth recalls the instrumental organization of things; the order gave to actions and deeds of human being, the complexity of equipments, the use of technology and technique on nature. Artworks are the location of fights between World and World, but they decree also their equilibrium: Where the work hides and what, in this hiding, the work emphasizes is called Earth. It is the self-secluding. Earth is the assiduous-indefatigable-not forced. On it and in it, the historical man builds its living in the world. Exposing a world, the artwork puts-here the World. The put-here is assumed in its deepest meaning. The artwork brings and keeps the World in an open world. The artwork leaves World to be a World.


Art demonstrates truth, being place of fights and reciprocal elevation of World and Earth (therefore, as last analysis, of its irrevocable unity, for only inside opposition the terms reveal their essence), “the reciprocal antagonism of illumination and hiding”, things in their obviousness. Truth is no more synonym of correspondence between thing and intellect. It is not opposed to falsity because it is the reality of a conflict. Art is truth because understands and starts that conflict. In this sense, it is important not to confuse the concept of World with the matter to mould one.

Heidegger says: during the realization of the artwork, the fight as shape must be given back to Earth. Earth must be extracted and used as auto-closing. This employ doesn’t use Earth as a matter, but puts it into a state of freedom for itself. This use of Earth is an operation with itself and seems a manipulation with the matter. That’s the reason why the realization of the artwork gives the illusion of being a craftsman activity. But it’s never. It’s only the use of the earth in the fixation of reality in the form.

The German philosopher thinks that in the artwork there’s the historicization of the reality, its fixation. Inside art, there’s the “producing safeguard reality in the artwork”. Its essence reveals reality. The extraordinary here is the absolute impossibility by the artwork to influence the normal essence through a random action. The efficiency of the artwork does not consist in producing effects. It consists in that mutation of not-being-hidden that is connected to the artwork: that is a mutation of the essence.

This concept creates a new idea of beauty, not related to the aesthetic pleasure of the contemplation or use, as the showing of truth inside the artwork. The artwork is not a shape that moulds the matter, rather the matter itself that emerges, the World that closes into it and is hedged in, the Earth that is opened and exposed. Art is no more the true and false concept, it doesn’t represent, it doesn’t show, but it constitutes the research of an opening, a momentary fixation of the Earth on a World.


Heidegger‘s essay asks questions that overcome this treatise and it must be related to the entire Heidegger thought to be completely understood. Anyway, some ideas from the “origin of the work of art” can be useful to understand the role of the art made by software in the contest of contemporary art and in the actual market of art.

First of all, the renouncement to every traditional aesthetic conception and the reorganization of the role of the experience defining the essence of the artwork. The software art is the place for the proliferation of a series of unedited aesthetics that overcome traditional conceptions of beauty and value of the artistic object. Representation, allegory, symbolism are terms often unknown to the practices of the programming with artistic aim. The work is a tangible and concrete product, more than an output; something that constantly recall its own act.

The software art, in a Heidegger vision, is the part of the software culture that reveals the essence of the digital code, in the moment where it negates the mere functionality and practicality. The software art does not use a code as instrument to realize something else, but reveals it in its thingness. The software art reveals the truth of the conflict between a World as computational universe inside a machine, as group of data, as code like matter that cannot be understood and an Earth made of significant surfaces where the code creates instruments and tools that men can use in the area of the contemporary software culture.


The program that renounce to serve the men exalt and problematise the truth of the conflict World (code as not intelligible essence, group of processes and translations that concern the machinery space) – Earth (the space of the function, of the usage, of the user interface). It’s the only space where the conflict emerges as digital art.

oftware art opposes the art industry that, when using the digital, use it as mere instrument. Sold and exchanged art, shown in museums and galleries is now unable to unlock worlds and compare with reality and its historicization. Art aims, but not always arrives, to be pure experience, absolute Erlebnis, and it is often impotent against reality.

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