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Generative Art

February 22nd, 2007


Generative art refers to art that has been generated, composed, or constructed in an algorithmic manner through the use of systems defined by computer software algorithms, or similar mathematical or mechanical or randomised autonomous processes.

Generative art is a system oriented art practice where the common denominator is the use of systems as a production method. To meet the definition of generative art, an artwork must be self-contained and operate with some degree of autonomy. The workings of systems in generative art might resemble, or rely on, various scientific theories such as Complexity science and Information theory. The systems of generative artworks have many similarities with systems found in various areas of science. Such systems may exhibit order and/or disorder, as well as a varying degree of complexity, making behavioral prediction difficult. However, such systems still contain a defined relationship between cause and effect. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Musikalisches Würfelspiel” (Musical Dice Game) 1757 is an early example of a generative system based on randomness. The structure was based on an element of order on one hand, and disorder on the other.

An artist or creator will usually set down certain ground-rules or formulae and/or templates materials, and will then set a random or semi-random process to work on those elements. The results will remain somewhat within set limits, but may also be subject to subtle or even startling mutations. The idea of putting the art making process in the place of a pre-generated artwork is a key feature in generative art, highlighting the process-orientation as an essential characteristic. Generative artists such as Hans Haacke have explored processes of physical and biological systems in artistic context.

Generative art can also evolve in real-time, by applying feedback and generative processes to its own created states. A generative work of art would in this case never be seen to play in the same way twice. Different types of graphical programming environments (e.g. Max/Msp, Pure Data) are used in real-time for generative audiovisual artistic expressions for instance in the Demoscene and in VJ-culture.

Artificial intelligence and automated behavior have introduced new ways of seeing generative art. The term behavior is particularly useful when describing generative qualities in art because of the associations to biology and evolution, for example with the virus models used by the digital artist Joseph Nechvatal. Autopoiesis by Ken Rinaldo includes fifteen musical and robotic sculptures that interact with the public and modify their behaviors based on both the presence of the participants and each other.

The term generative art is not describing any art-movement or ideology. It’s a method of making art. The term refers to how the art is made, and not taking into account why it was made or what the content of the artwork is.

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