Generative Art & Chance
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What is Generative Art?
Generative art refers to art that in whole or in part has been created with the use of an autonomous system.
The use of systems is identified as a key element in generative art. Various ideas from complexity theory are then introduced. It is noted that systems exist on a continuum from the highly ordered to the highly disordered. Citing examples from information theory and complexity science, it is noted that highly ordered and highly disordered systems are typically viewed as simple, and complex systems exhibit both order and disorder. This leads to the adoption of effective complexity, order, and disorder as organizing principles in the comparison of various generative art systems. This inclusive view leads to the somewhat surprising observation that generative art is as old as art itself. A number of specific artists and studies are discussed within this systems and complexity theory influenced paradigm. Finally a number of art theoretical questions are introduced to exercise the suggested generative art definition and implicit paradigm.
Looking at Scientific Models
Complexity science is a new approach or method to science that has arisen over the past few decades to present an alternative paradigm to our standard method of scientific enquiry.
A good theory:
- Is elegant
- Contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements (simplicity/parsimony)
- Agrees with and explains all existing observations
- Makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out.
- Is fruitful: the emphasis by Colyvan is not only upon prediction and falsification, but also upon a theory’s ability in suggesting future work.
Examples in drawing and painting
“The serial artist does not attempt to produce a beautiful or mysterious object but functions merely as a clerk cataloguing the results of his premise.”
The system can be an extension of an artists intent, and original idea, and the work should reflect these intentions. In this situation the artist still possesses some control and works with elements which are generated by chance. In the following piece by Ellsworth Kelley he used several small compositions which were based upon cutting up multiple sheets of paper and matching them together by tossing them into the air, cutting the edges square, and then placing the smaller compositions into a larger grid. In this piece Kelley obviously determined the colors which were to be used however he let the compositions make themselves by chance. One should also note, that this piece worked out quite well, and that is probably why it is better known than other experiments that never saw the light of day.
In a following piece Kelley was noted to have said that he wished to work with more color after seeing an Ad Rheinhart exhibition. His pilgrimage into color was marked by the creation of a series of collages called the Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I to VIII. In this piece he created a grid, and then randomly assigned each square in the grid a color by mixing up a bunch of numbers in a hat and pulling them out randomly. Of course, there were still limits in place such as how many numbers can be used and restrictions.
Examples in photography
Gottfried Jager introduced the term Generative Photography 1968 (40 years ago!) to describe the
photographic process not as a reproductive, but as a productive system. Its underlying idea
lies at the point where three developmental trends in art and photography intersect:
• ‚experimental’ photography, from COBURN’s Vortographs to the contemporary
• ‚apparatus art’ from the kaleidoscope to the computer – and
• aesthetic theory, in particular, the Exact Aesthetics from PYTHAGORAS to the
informational, ‚generative’ and apparative aesthetics of today.
The medium photography has assimilated and developed each of these trends in its own
We are now stretching the idea of what it means to truly be generative where often the artists hand is completely removed, it does implement the possibility of chance which is the other way of looking at this prompt. Jiri Hanke’s series of photographs from his window is one example of this. He has a window, and he uses this view and a camera to create a series of photos. Think about making some strict limitations like this which will introduce the possibility of chance or something that is out of control.
Ishac Bertran describes the process where the digital drawings are sequentially projected on to a screen in a dark room and photographed using long exposure times. As in generative art, this photography technique uses an algorithm that is polluted with a certain randomness.
Examples in sound/music
There are four primary perspectives on generative music (Wooller, R. et al., 2005)
Music composed from analytic theories that are so explicit as to be able to generate structurally coherent material (Loy and Abbott 1985; Cope 1991). This perspective has its roots in the generative grammars of language (Chomsky 1956) and music (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983), which generate material with a recursive tree structure.
EMI (Experiments in Musical Intelligence) software has produced works in the style of various composers.
Music generated by a system component that has no discernible musical inputs. That is, “not transformational” (Rowe 1991; Lippe 1997:34; Winkler 1998). The Koan software bySSEYO – used by Brian Eno to create Generative Music 1 – is an example of this.
Music generated by processes that are designed and/or initiated by the composer. Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain and Terry Riley’s In C are examples of this (Eno 1996).
Non-deterministic music (Biles 2002), or music that cannot be repeated, for example, ordinary wind chimes (Dorin 2001). This perspective comes from the broader generative artmovement. This revolves around the idea that music, or sounds may be “generated” by a musician “farming” parameters within an ecology, such that the ecology will perpetually produce different variation based on the parameters and algorithms used. An example of this technique is Joseph Nechvatal’s Viral symphOny: a collaborative electronic noise music symphony created between the years 2006 and 2008 using custom artificial life software based on a viral model.
Mozart used a generative system to create one of his compositions.
In 1787, Mozart wrote the measures and instructions for a musical composition dice game. The idea is to cut and paste pre-written measures of music together to create a Minuet.
This site is an implementation of such a game. The music and table of rules for this game appear to have been published anonymously in 1787, and interestingly, the table of rules for this Minuet is identical to Mozart’s. However, it is not clear who the composer of these measures is.
There are 176 possible Minuet measures and 96 possible Trio measures to choose from. The result of a dice roll is looked up in a table of rules to determine which measure to play.
Two six-sided dice are used to determine each of the 16 Minuet measures (i.e. 11 possibilities for each of 16 measures). One six-sided die is used to determine each of the 16 Trio measures (i.e. 6 possibilities for each of 16 measures). So in theory, there are (11^16) * (6^16) = (1.3 * (10^29)) possible compositions. Of course, many of them will be closely related. Nevertheless, there are still many interesting possibilities.
Examples in poetry
Simon Biggs created a page_space that translates textual input into “a number of different languages, including English, Greek symbols, the decimal ASCII codes that map keyboard keys to typography, the binary codes that equate to these, Morse Code and Braille.” The work creates a visual palimpsest of computer/human language, while also acting as a quirky word-processor that saves your work (called “LossText”) onto the hard-drive. As you enter your text the words are continuously translated and processed, the text resizing itself as more data is entered and translated material accumulates. The page visually and virtually reconfigures itself. Biggs remarks, “If you choose to keep writing for long enough the text you are writing will eventually become reduced to 1 point fontsize, rendering all the different codes visually equivalent and equally unreadable (except for the Braille).” via
This work is part of an ongoing series of interactive, experimental and generative poetic texts using Processing to generate visual compositions which fill the viewable space in time, with a growing pattern triggered by sound and silence.These particular poems developed with Szekely were inspired by Hansjorg Mayer’s alphabetenquadratbuch poem (alphabetsquarebook). In all the experiments, three communication systems are coming together: image, writing and code.
Other methods of creating work
John Cage used the I Ching, and ancient Chinese oracle to create music compositions as well as paintings. Think about what other ways you can create systems which can output similar results.
Divination techniques of the I Ching were used by John Cage to create paintings. Read more about them here.
Generative works can also be made from code, and therefore some argue that these sorts of works that the artist steps back even further and the system itself should take on the role of the creator.
“works where an unpredictable progressive virus operates on a degradation/transformation of an image. Using a C++ framework, Joseph Nechvatal and his programmer/collaborator Stephane Sikora have brought Nechvatal’s early computer virus project into the realm of artificial life (A-Life) (i.e. into a synthetic system that exhibits behaviors characteristic of natural living systems). With Computer Virus Project 2.0, elements of artificial life have been introduced in that viruses are modeled to be autonomous agents living in/off the image. The project simulates a population of active viruses functioning as an analogy of a viral biological system. Here the host of the virus are the digital files on which the computer-robotic assisted paintings in this show are based. Among the different techniques used here are models that result from embodied artificial intelligence and the paradigm of genetic programming.”
So what’s in common with all of these pieces? For starters each element was chosen by a human, and it would be difficult to argue that all generative art is not a byproduct of human decision. Kelley chose colors, Burroughs cut up newspapers, and Cage assigned notes on a piano. But the point is that all of these had a starting point and that was working with a specific medium and process. And many times it is important to note that they fit what many would assume is a chaotic process of generated components of their work and put it into a certain framework. Such as a grid, or a series (yep. That’s why Sol Lewitt is also called a Serial Artist). If you think your stuff looks like crap then put it in a square.
You will be creating a system of making art which is based upon some chance operation . If you are stuck on how to create chance operations then first think about what are the components inherit in both of your media and how you can assign these components into a generative system. Paint has color, thickness, wetness, darkness, speed, application, texture, forms. Jpegs are made of code, colors, darknesses, computer screens, projected light, or turkeys.
How have people done chance operations? Roll some dice. Point to a word in a book at random. Throw stuff at the wall. Break stuff. roll some dice which determines which rock you should throw at a glass full of words and then make 10 images based off of the first ten words you pick up and then pour wax all over the images. Remember you can also do loads of chance operations using the internet or your computer. Use google to generate random words based upon random searches. Use Youtube to generate random screen grabs etc. Create some artificial intelligence which not only creates digital work but also spams leading art galleries emails with the images.
Remember you can also use traditional mediums to make chance or generative work.
Cement, Glass, Metal, Stone, Brick, Wood, Chalk, Charcoal, Crayon, Graphite, Marker, Pastel, Pen and ink, Pencil, Sand, Watercolour, Oils, Acylics, Inks, Dyes, Glues, film, wooden instruments,
Think about blending these with new(digital) media.
Digital media is generally referred to as stuff that needs electricity to work. Like Graphic art software for illustration and animation, 3D computer graphics for sculpture and 3D animation, Digital photography and digital video for the capturing of photographs and footagecontrolling devices (touch screens or midi keyboards and kinnects) to bridge the gap between traditional techniques and digital painting, projections, screens, and programming.
Some challenges to consider.
Try to create the most conceptually potent work, with the least amount of effort. It is important to remember that there is no longer a division between how “good” something is, and the amount of labor required to make it. Duchamp signaled this when he created his fountain.
There is a difference between art and craft (or technique).
Postmodern art is not something you “get”. Ever. It isn’t a puzzle to solve. It’s an investigation that may not have any answers, or may not care about answers.
Artwork generally today is not about illustrating anything, and it is less insistent that the viewer come to work with any sort of predefined knowledge.
The module guide is designed to support your studies in the Independent Studio Practice Module in Year Three. It contains information that will help you to understand the structure, content, and delivery of the module and the kind of learning experience, aims, and outcomes you can expect. It is also a useful resource document that will give you advice on how to get the most out of this module.