Friday, January 05, 2007

What is art?

What is art? In the most general sense it is anything that stems from a human’s creative side. If we refine this down to visual arts the most general sense is any art that we can see, excluding performance arts. What we do, whether we call it algorithmic art or fractal art, is poorly defined in the public's understanding. If you do a a survey of the internet looking for definitions of algorithmic art or fractal art, what you will find is something along the lines of (a) images generated by a computer, (b) images generated from fractal equations or (c) mathematically generated images. It is no wonder that with kind of (mis)understanding that algorithmic art has difficulty being accepted by serious purveyors of art. The human element in these perceptions is missing. Anyone who views algorithmic art as something in which you can turn on several computers and let them run to "create" art, is at very best, creating accidental art, not art by design. This does algorithmic art, and all the artists who have spent years learning to use to the tools, a great disservice. Learning the skills of any artistic endeavor requires hard work, practice, discipline and time.

The community of algorithmic artists have available literally thousands of fractal formulas, coloring methods, transformation methods and many types of algorithmic methodologies. To name a few they can chose from escape time, convergent, strange attractors, affine and Möbius transforms, 2 dimensional, and multidimensional formulas. Add to that ray tracing and multidimensional surfaces and the toolkit is vast. And it is still growing! We are at a point in time where we can now realistically create algorithmic art by design.

I am on several private lists that have as one of their goals to critique the art of the list members. Critique of accidental art is of little meaning, because the “artist” has little, if any, way to deal with the analysis, other than making better choices from their “accidents” A true algorithmic artist, who creates by design, can take a critique and change their creation to respond to the analysis. It works. I have seen it happen.

We are at the point now that photography was a few decades ago. This is our challenge. It is in our hands to educate by example, by what we create, to move to that next level of acceptance.


Blogger Kerry said...

To my mind (and I'm prepared to be shown differently), there's a difference between algorithmic art and fractal art. Specifically, fractal art is a subset of algorithmic art, as fractals use algorithms, but not all algorithms generate fractals. As an example, my Cheshire Cat image uses fluid flow and numerical analysis algorithms, but no fractal stuff.

But, that's a comparatively minor point. The larger point about the unperceived human touch is relevant to all branches of algorithmic art. We need to work to change Ron's list of how our work is perceived to things like: (a) images generated using a computer (not by a computer), (b) images generated using fractal equations or (c) images generated using mathematics. Keep the "by" referring to people and the references to tools as "using," just like in painting, sculpture, or photography. Unfortunately, our tools are now becoming sufficiently sophisticated that they can generate art out of the box. Who's to say that my deepest expression of the human condition isn't the default Mandelbrot set?

More importantly, we're at an exciting time--the tools are progressing to the point where they are accessible enough for non-technies to grab and run with them. In turn, artists are discovering algorithmic art and are bringing with them their aesthetic sensibilities, helping us to see what can really be done with the numbers. This symbiotic relationship can only help our genre to increase in quality and popularity as it matures.

1/05/2007 6:09 PM

Blogger Tim said...

Great post, Ron. It's nice to hear the Algorithmic word which is really where my interests lie. Fractals of course being what I consider to be the most fruitful of algorithms, at least so far.

Having tried to read up and educate myself about "Algorithmic" art I have also encountered the same fuzzy explanations which challenged me to answer these questions for myself. I define AA in it's most basic form as "machine made, human selected".

The "pure" algorithmic art is almost like some mythical philosopher's stone or something. The closest thing I've seen is some of the java applets by Jared Tarbel. However, as I used these I came to realize that they had been so restricted in what they drew that they were really producing only slight variations of the same, albeit good-looking image. They weren't too creative, but they did produce something artistic on their own.

The other example is Stephen Ferguson's Plum08 java applet using the Gumowski-Mira uh, "thing". It's creative -most images are unique, and it requires no user input (you have to use screen capture to save one) and almost every image looks good. I keep bringing up Steve's applet because I consider it to be the highest development of Algorithmic creativity. Of course, Steve has undoubtably brought some of his own artistic ability in the form of color and rendering to bear on the final result, so again, as Kerry also points out with artists "using" these computer tools, many of the tools have their artistic qualities programmed into them by artists (a programmer can be an artist too :) ).

Photography is a good parallel. How many people have bought an expensive SLR camera and been disappointed that their photos don't look like the pros? The sophisticated camera is like Ultrafractal, it's how you use that tool that determines what the result is.

I'm sure there's lots of people who've downloaded UF and been disappointed that they can't great stuff just by clicking. I think many people just don't understand the human or artist's contribution to the end result, which is always found in what we call art.

1/05/2007 7:31 PM

Blogger Guido said...

This is a remarkable text in the sense that the concept of ‘design’ is introduced in the discussion about the range of algorithmic art. It means that for the first time we see how we can (re)produce an image of some sort of “reality” as we believe it to look. Despite much of such a reality isn’t as real as most would think, it can be now be differentiate from the infinity of stimuli by the notion that “objects” retained their identity and become now distinguishable from their surroundings. We can start to understand that – like in every art form – things were not always behaving as they were expected according to the “objective” world. After that the sense of subjectivity is expressed not like theoretical knowledge (I must say scientific knowledge) but, instead, is now rooted in a deep connection with the own particular perception of the artist. Bravíssimo!

1/06/2007 7:32 AM

Blogger Tim said...

For anyone who's interested, here's a link to Plum O8. It's a java applet, so you need to make sure java is enabled in your browser. Instant art. You don't even have to switch it on...

1/06/2007 11:55 AM


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