Art is a small word that covers a lot of ground. What art is is truly in the eye of the beholder, and, since it is not an objective but subjective topic, there is plenty of room for discussion across the industry.

One new era in the artistic world is that of generative art. This style of art relies on a unique component: a computer.

Sometimes called computer art, this digital art form is taking the world by storm with complex images and unique patterns generated in part or in whole by an algorithm or computer software program.

As computer science blurs the lines between our left and right brains, the new tools available to generative artists beg the question: is it art?

While that question may never truly be answered, there is certainly much to learn from this new and exciting category of art.

Digital Art by An Autonomous System

While humans are certainly involved, there is a portion or totality of work in the generative art concept that is created by a non-human entity. In the case of this art style, the autonomous system is generally one that is non-human.

The most common forms of generative art currently fall under a digital art umbrella, in that they require the use of a digital entity in order to be created. Typically,

The system, on its own, can independently determine features of an artwork that would otherwise typically require decisions that would be made directly by the human artist. The “autonomy” lies in the system’s own ability to create generative art.

Generative Art: Defined

Having a brief understanding of what it is, never truly defines the vast sea that a topic can include. In the case of generative art, there is plenty to dive into for a better understanding, well beyond how the use of an autonomous system makes artwork.

The Role of Generative Artists

Part of the discussion over whether generative art is in fact “art” by definition lies in the explanation of the creation process itself. Is a computer program doing the creating? Or is the artist?

In many cases in this new style of art, the human creator claims that the generative system itself represents their own artistic idea. In other words, the programs did not create themselves. Data must be entered, a concept must be created, and information must be entered into the system in order for it to operate.

In doing these steps, some artists feel that this is their contribution to the piece. Yes, in the end, the computer calculated the results, but without that necessary input and programming, the system is not just going to take it upon itself to do so. (At least not at this time … Surely, in some futuristic movie about AI taking over the human race … but let’s not get off-topic.)

Others across the industry argue that the system takes on the role of the creator entirely. Still, others say that a system is just a tool, much like a paintbrush in more traditional art forms, which must be utilized by an artist in order to produce art. After all, without human intervention would there even be a system at all?

Overall, the debate may rage on for years, but one thing is for sure, unique and interesting pieces are being produced each day, with new and improved methods being developed right along with them. Precisely what constitutes an artist is as debatable as what constitutes art.

Types of Generative Art

As varied as the world of art is, so too is the major umbrella known as generative art. The category allows for many unique interpretations, limited only by the imagination of the artists.

In most cases, generative art often refers to algorithmic art or that which is produced via algorithmically determined computer programming. Additionally, the generative umbrella also often refers to art that is a type of synthetic media, which in itself is another general term for any algorithmically-generated media. In other words, there are many names for the style, not to mention many applications of its use.

Generative artists, however, aren’t limited by just those media of the computer world. Even computer art goes far beyond binary code art.

Art can also be considered generative if it uses the creative code art concept in its design at any point. For example, artists have a fond way to make generative artwork via similar algorithmic processes, using systems of chemistry, biology, mechanics and robotics, smart materials, manual randomization, mathematics, data mapping, symmetry, and tiling, just to name a few media.

No matter the material, there are plenty of ways for the generative artist to work creative coding into the process of design. Generative design software continues to evolve and grow along with the industry, offering new and unique ways to expand the creative process.

In addition to a vast list of media to work with (think the more traditional art forms such as clay, paints, pencils, ceramics, etc.), the generative art world also offers an opportunity across genres to create.

Some industries already well into the experimental phases of the art form include:

  • Visual art
  • Digital art
  • Music
  • Architecture
  • Literature
  • Live coding

There are countless and seemingly endless permutations of the style, and artists continue to develop new concepts as the work explores the possible outcomes of using computer-generated art.

Art in a Science World

Code art or generative algorithms may sound like words that typically scare an artist. Traditionally, individuals have often identified as either being of the science and math background, or left-brained, of the arts, or right-brained. Seldom do the two worlds coincide.

Take a look at our advanced educational system. Bachelor’s degrees for example are labeled as a “BA” or bachelor’s of arts, or a “BS” bachelor’s of science. School testing is often divided into math and science versus the language arts and literature.

Modern art knows no boundaries, and this evolutionary art form is expanding the art world, not to mention the way we think about such unique combinations.

How To Create Generative Art

It may sound intimidating to many in the art space: using a computer, math, or science to create masterpieces. But, in fact, once you dig into the topic a little deeper, you can understand what creative potential truly exists in this unique and fun way to create art.

The addition of generative systems, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computational design, can lead to a completely new way of making art, a transformational creativity process for all that wish to create it.

But, what are the nuts and bolts of the process? How does a generative artist apply a computer code and make pieces the human brain may not have yet considered.

Take a Course

Already, there are plenty of educational opportunities to learn generative art. Classes in CSS and HTML are adding an art portion to the curricula. Well-known schools, such as New York University, offers an online course in Creative Coding.

DEV workshops offer online educational tools such as videos and learning resources to teach artists how to turn coding skills into masterpieces.

Read a Book

There are also many pieces of literature dedicated to educating the average artist on the art form. “The Nature of Code,” by Daniel Shiffman, is highly recommended by those in the field. A quick Amazon search will also get you countless titles to shed some more light on the different parameters of the budding industry.

Generative Systems

There are plenty of systems already in place for artists to dive into the generative arts. However, the other unique aspect, as with most art, is that generative artists can create new systems as they see fit.

This new form of art, again, has nearly no limits, and artists’ work spans a wide variety of processes. From a simple process, perhaps plotting dots within a canvas, to a piece that can generate thousands of outcomes, there is plenty of room for the artist to create.

Some artists or theorists also break generative art into even more specific subcategories, depending on the system used. Some consider robotic arts to differ from computer-aided work. Others look at interactive art in a unique category from say computer art. There is plenty of space in the sea, with even room for new skills to still come forward still.

Something that makes sense to one artist may not to another. Again, the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder, and there are plenty of unique ways to add to evolutionary algorithms still in the early stages of development.

From operating in codes to explore visual complexity to entering codes for natural language rules to result in creative word combinations, there is seemingly no end to the possibilities of the application when it comes to adding computers to art.

Examples of Generative Art

With so many forms of media, styles of art, and generative design concepts out there, there is a wide variety of examples to peruse. Here are some of today’s top generative artists, and a brief look how the way they work in the space.

Michael Hansmeyer

Michael Hansmeyer is one such popular artist presently creating generative art. He says that the form is akin to “thinking about designing not the object — but a process to generate objects.”

Known for his elaborate architectural patterns, Hansmeyer has a generative design process that relies on “happy accidents” that occur over time to create his pieces.

In order to create elaborate architectural patterns, he says he relies on a design process that “strikes a balance between the expected and the unexpected, between control and relinquishment.”

As a generative artist, many view Hansmeyer’s work as experimental. In other words, trying out many methods until ending on a piece that he truly enjoys. One of his best-known pieces, “Subdivided Columns – A New Order (2010)” uses a process of repeated subdivisions. The piece explored, rather than designing architectural columns directly, the idea that a program could be used, which produced columns automatically, then run again and again, adding different parameters, to create endless end results.

Katharina Brunner

Another popular generative artist at present is Brunner. Her work, now appearing and originally published on GitHub, is a recommended starting point for those just getting into the art form.

She focuses her pieces on using “many thousand points,” which can then be interconnected in a multitude of ways. She uses the format to generate thousands of outcomes, each resulting in a unique piece.

With a background in digital journalism, the artist has used generative design via the programming language R, and educates others on the process, as well.

Jon McCormack

Further blurring the lines of science and art, McCormack, an Australian professor, uses algorithmic generative design to create collections such as his project called “Fifty Sisters.” Here, he has truly formed his own field of data visualization, combining a unique set of data points to create something new.

“Fifty Sisters” is a large-scale installation that includes a series of 1m x 1m images of “computer-synthesized plant forms.” While they look much like plants you’d expect to find in nature, their origination is from anywhere but.

The “plants” as they appear in the images, were algorithmically “grown” from computer code using artificial evolution and generative algorithms. The growth pattern was determined by the programming. Each plant-like form, however, was derived from the starting graphic elements of oil company logos.

Artists like Kate Compton have followed suit in the natural theme, creating moving .gif-like pieces of art simply entitled “Flowers.”

A Newfound Popularity

The artificial evolution of processes like machine learning or artificial intelligence may seem like it birthed the newly budding art form, but in a technical sense, the art is nothing new at all.

The History of Generative Art

Generative art is technically not something that is new. Art history may be a varied subject itself, but most agree, from the art institute to the average museum-goer, that such pieces date back to the dawn of the computer age itself.

Theorists as early as 2003 were coining the phrase and attempting to define its parameters. The term dates back even further.

In the early 1960s, Bell Labs pioneered one of the first versions of the art form. The labs opted to use computers to be creative with researchers like Michael Noll. By the 1970s, he called for action stating “what we really need is a new breed of artist-computer scientists.”

By then, many had already agreed.

As far back as 1965, artists such as Margaret Boden and Ernest Edmonds noted the use of the term “generative art.” At the time, it was often used in the broader context of automated computer graphics being generated by the likes of Bell Labs in the 1960s.

Other examples of the earliest works, beginning with artwork exhibited by Georg Nees and Frieder Nake in 1965, operated on a similar system of generative design. The generative system of art creation was already well into development by the 1970s.

Theories on Generative Art: Philip Galanter

The most widely cited theory of generative art was created in 2003 by Philip Galanter. He describes generative art systems in the context of complexity theory. He in particular promotes the notion of Murray Gell-Mann and Seth Lloyd, who both agreed that effective complexity is a part of the equation.

In this view, Galanter argued that both highly ordered and highly disordered generative art can be viewed as “simple.” Highly ordered generative art minimizes entropy and allows maximal data compression, and highly disordered generative art maximizes entropy and disallows significant data compression.

“Maximally complex generative art blends order and disorder in a manner similar to biological life, and indeed biologically inspired methods are most frequently used to create complex generative art,” the theory states.

According to historians of art, this view is at odds with the earlier theory, which influenced the views of Max Bense and Abraham Moles, who noted that complexity in art increases with the disorder.

Galanter notes also that, given the use of visual symmetry, pattern, and repetition by the most ancient known cultures, generative art is not even as new as in the 2000s. Instead, he says, “generative art is as old as art itself.”

Galanter also notes in his theory that rule-based art and generative art are not the same things. He says, for example, that “some art is based on constraint rules that disallow the use of certain colors or shapes. Such art is not generative because constraint rules are not constructive, i.e. by themselves they don’t assert what is to be done, only what cannot be done.”

Theories on Generative Art: Margaret Boden and Ernest Edmonds

Other theorists have discussed generative art and note that it is not the computer, even, that makes it so.

In a 2009 article, Margaret Boden and Ernest Edmonds said they agreed that generative art “need not be restricted to that done using computers and that some rule-based art is not generative.”

The duo has, instead, developed a technical vocabulary to further differentiate the types of generative arts, such as

  • Ele-art (electronic art)
  • C-art (computer art)
  • D-art (digital art)
  • CA-art (computer-assisted art)
  • G-art (generative art)
  • CG-art (computer-based generative art)
  • Evo-art (evolutionary-based art)
  • R-art (robotic art)
  • I-art (interactive art)
  • CI-art (computer based interactive art)
  • VR-art (virtual reality art).

The two have furthered the types of art and categories that fall under the generative art umbrella, depending on the methods used to create them.

No Matter Your Definition

Depending on your own generative art definition, and which generative systems you may consider being included, there are plenty of forms to discuss.

Additionally, this creative process has already had a long history. However, you are probably just now hearing about it (assuming you are not, yourself, an art historian).

So, why the newfound excitement?

Enter the NFT

If you aren’t familiar yet, you will be soon. The new hot term in the world of cryptocurrency, investing, and art is NFT. The three little letters stand for non-fungible tokens, and they are the hottest new kid on the block.

These tokens represent everything from real-world assets such as a piece of real estate to the far more common digital artforms like CryptoPunks, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and Cool Cats. The NFT concept itself has recently blossomed into a multi-million-dollar industry, so it is no wonder that generative design is getting another look from many a researcher.

In the case of many NFT collections, such as the digital pieces mentioned above, an artist creates a basic code. Let’s take a look at Bored Ape Yacht Club, for example. These NFTs make for popular profile pictures, for celebrities like Madonna and Eminem.

In reality, the collection of 10,000 faces of monkeys is basically an algorithmic program-making art created largely by a computer. For instance, by taking a basic face and altering a handful of choices for background colors, eye shape and color, nose shape, accessories such as hats or sunglasses, and clothing types, you can create endless permutations of a similar-looking ape, simply by coding it into existence. In other words, you can generate art.

This form of code art has had a renewed following as the value for such NFTs skyrockets into the millions. While this type of generative design may be argued by some as “art” in the sense that it is truly transformational creativity, nevertheless, the price tags don’t seem to agree.

The odds are, that generative art is back in the headlines and becoming more discussed in pop culture due to the NFT phenomenon. While a human being may be creating the coding, the art is largely a result of the coding’s resulting combinations.

Generative Art’s Future

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but as with much of the art created today, there is always room for growth, change, and new developments. How these changes in the art may impact the world of collectibles, investing, and online phenomenon like cryptocurrency remains to be seen and will likely continue to evolve over time.

Staying Informed

The key to any good subject is to stay informed. This is especially crucial of ever-changing and newly developing topics, such as ever-evolutionary algorithms in generative art. You don’t have to rub elbows with professional artists to have an up on the trends and vocabulary used in the space.

Do Your Research

Relying on well-researched resources is a must-have skill when staying informed. Trust sources such as FLOLiO to bring the latest trends, definitions, and new subjects to you directly. Our detailed-oriented articles, links, and treasure trove of informative resources will keep you in the know, no matter how the landscape changes.

Generative art is just one such topic to stay on top of in a complex world of change. Rely on a trusted source to bring you the latest and most informative data.

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