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Generative Art

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Generative Art, 9781935182627 (1935182625), Manning Publications, 2011
As a young man, this career shift wasn’t entirely motivated by a need to restore the right-left hemisphere balance to my young brain; it may also have had something to do with the worry that knowing a lot about Alan Turing and C++ was probably not the best way to get a girlfriend.

My studies of early 1990s ideas of computing had so repulsed me that I made efforts to stay as far away from computers as I could for the next 10 years. For much of the 90s, I didn’t even own a computer; instead I had a guitar, an attitude, and an ill-advised haircut. I was only drawn back toward the end of the decade when the web started to take off, and a lot of creative people suddenly discovered that what they’d been doing recently with video cameras, photography, and hypertext was now being called New Media, and everyone was doing it. This rehabilitation of computing has continued unabated, to the point that today, to say you “work with computers” is about as meaningful as saying you breathe air.

At the time I dropped out, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than spending the rest of my days communing with these soulless beasts of logic and wires. But in adulthood, I discovered a new enthusiasm for computing after stumbling across a simple realization; that computers and computing were not the same thing. What hadn’t been made apparent to me during my university days was that computation is everywhere, and it can be a thing of beauty.

Computing is what a stream does as it finds its way downhill toward the ocean. It’s what the planets do as they move in their orbits. It’s what our bodies do as they maintain the balance needed to keep us upright. It’s what our DNA does as it unravels. Computing is what I’m doing now as I process these ideas and output them as text—and what your brain is doing as you read the words and form your own ideas as a result.

This is why I can say, without contradiction, that while I still find computers boring, I think computing is cool. The only place computers really come into it is in attempting to simulate these computations or creating new ones to rival those of the natural world. Which brings me to the subject in hand: generative art.

As a jobbing coder, I always dabbled with generative ideas when I could. Whenever I got my hands on a new bit of kit, the first thing I’d run would be a few fractal creations to test its limits. But I’d never taken it seriously as an art form, and I was only dimly aware of the growing movement of artists who did. But this side of the millennium, that movement was gathering pace and becoming more visible, as the tools also became increasingly powerful and accessible.
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