- It is very difficult to value. One can’t see at a glance whether it took time or skill to create. And similar to other types of art that involve mechanical reproduction, e.g. photography, generative art can be produced on demand, it’s not irreplaceable like a sculpture or painting is.
- It usually lacks a good story. Getting attention in the art world may depend more on the artist’s narrative than on the art itself, and many art consumers will similarly buy when the story is right, and avoid art they love when it has a bad or boring story. I think people legitimately and reasonably need to be able to have something interesting to say when their friends comment on the artwork in their house.
I say this as a generative artist and absolute generative art lover myself. I explored what it might take to make a living from generative art for a year, and I’ve met a lot of people who hate all things digital, as well as a lot of people who get what I do and love it. The thing is, the people who hate it or don’t get it have a point.
> Myth Two: The artist has zero control and the autonomous machine is randomly generating the designs. The computer is making the art and the human deserves no credit, as it is not really art.
This one I’ve run into a lot. People who don’t think I deserve full credit, or just don’t know how to assign or think about credit.
> Myth One: The artist has complete control and the code is always executed exactly as written. Therefore, generative art lacks the elements of chance, accident, discovery, and spontaneity that often makes art great, if not at least human and approachable.
This one I haven’t seen much of, and I’d question whether it’s a common myth. But, more importantly, I cringe at the idea that randomness leads to discovery or spontaneity or human approachableness. I would never compare randomness to surprises or creativity in traditional art, but that idea is fairly pervasive among generative art initiates. I use randomness a lot, but randomness is very boring. It’s mechanical variety without surprise, randomness rarely leads to surprise without a lot of generative creativity on the part of the artist.
Abstract Art in general isn't considered "Art" by everyone, especially in the days of Abstract Expressionism and Jackson Pollack. While I do appreciate the thoughts around generative art, these discussions are not new. But it is a new generation using new tools, re-discovering the arguments from the mid 20th century.
The question isn't whether it is art, or whether other people think it is art. The question is why do those questions matter to you (the generic you, not OP or any specific commenter) as an artist. Are you doing it to get validation from others? Are you doing it to sell the work to others? Or do you have your own reasons for your work, aside from the opinions of others?
For me, art is about self expression and self exploration. If other people call it "art", great. If they buy my work, even better. But I'll do my work, either way.
As an aside, my favorite painting in the world is Jackson Pollack's "Mural", which currently resides at my alma mater, the University of Iowa. Mural is quite famous, as it was the painting that made him - his first commission, for Peggy Guggenheim, proudly displayed at the entrance to her penthouse. It was recently appraised at about $250M.
When Guggenheim moved back to Europe after WWII, she gave away a great deal of art to museums and universities. She offered Mural to the UI. It arrived with $4 in shipping costs due (it's quite large, about 20 feet wide). There was actually a debate at the museum about whether or not to pay such outrageous shipping fees for a worthless piece of abstract junk that isn't even real art. They keep the minutes of that meeting on display with the painting...
Thank you. There's a lot of people throwing around art terminology in this thread and it doesn't always make sense.
Generative art only has to output through a photorealistic renderer and suddenly it's no longer "abstract", but "surrealism". This demonstrates how little sense it makes to apply such terms to generative art.
Let alone the fact that it's multimedia and the term really only applies to visual art. You could have "abstract music", I guess, but it means something completely different.
It's an interesting discussion though.
The problem I have is generally when it appears to me it didn't require much effort. Making a program that draws random dots, random rectangles, random lines, is almost a rite of passage for new programmers. A lot of generative art looks like hardly many more steps beyond that. Draw 100 rectangle each slightly smaller and rotated from the previous and you get a beautiful spiral.
I know my own rarely take more than 30 minutes each. I just take some existing generator and start tweaking. If I get something mildly pleasing I save it. But I rarely promote it because I feel at some level it was farted out, it was a sketch, a doodle, not a "work" of art.
Of course I know effort is probably not a valid criteria but still, it's sometimes hard not to see what appears to be low-effort generative art as barely more than the random dot/line/rectangle exercise most programmers do early in their learning. Like instead of 100% random colors use HSL and only vary the values 10% from some initial value and suddenly it's "art". (pick light blue and it's snow on the ground, pick light brown and it's sand, pick green and it's grass, pick red/orange/yellow and it's lava). It makes it hard to know when it crossed the line from learning to code to "art".
Of course like I said I still appreciate generative art but for some reason my own block is that I need to perceive effort. It can even be simple but I have to look at it and think something like "That was simple but took a long time to find the right parameters to get it to look that pleasing".
Let me add, it's a pie in the sky dream of mine to have/run/start/manage a kinetic interactive art museum the size of the Exploritorium in SF with constantly new exhibits much of which would be generative art.
I don't think you will find a lot of satisfaction by looking at art through the lens of "How long did this take the artist to make?"
With that said, most people making generative art are just doing it for fun, so it's no wonder so much of it looks the same. :)
You aren't making art because art does require effort. You have to put some thought into the product you want and then work towards it and make the thing that feels right to you.
If you never have an emotional connection to your work, it's no wonder you don't feel like you haven't made art, because you haven't.
This isn't to be mean. You could easily begin to make art, by creating your works with an eye towards purpose or feeling and demanding that what you make satisfies you. Then you'll be making art. But pointless generative stuff is just doodling, as you think. It'd be the same with a pen and paper as it is with code.
If you don't know the artist, know nothing about their intents and method of work, really how do you tell the difference between certain styles and that of a child or amateur?
How do you tell the difference between a Mondriaan and somebody's first graphics coding exercise?
Personally, I think there's a market for generative art out there but it'll be the 1% that you'll hear about and it will take the right blend of personality, aesthetics, theme, and timing to get right.
Dan Dennett has a beautiful example in his talk on consciousness (https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_on_our_consciousness/t...), where he talks about the Bellotto's painting.
"But, more importantly, I cringe at the idea that randomness leads to discovery or spontaneity or human approachableness."
I am not sure I completely agree with that. See this presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXQPL9GooyI
It’s totally okay to disagree with me, but FWIW, there’s a big difference in my mind between arbitrary and random, or between accident and random, or between discovery and random. A uniform random variable has an expected value, a guaranteed average, and known bounds, so to frame it according to that video, using a random number generator is designed and planned, and it won’t lead to anything happening that you didn’t expect. You can’t predict each instance, but you can predict the behavior. So I’m saying I already buy the title of that video (“Why greatness can’t be planned”) but I don’t think rand() is a vehicle to get you there.
There are no problems. It's just another art form.
> I’ve met a lot of people who hate all things digital, as well as a lot of people who get what I do and love it
So just ignore them. There is always an audience who will appreciate your work.
> I explored what it might take to make a living from generative art
I'm doing that currently as well, but I think it always will be my side project. If it pays the rent, I'll be more than happy :)
:) You are right, of course. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The "problems" I list are based on unspoken assumptions about what the goal is.
> So just ignore them. There is always an audience who will appreciate your work.
Totally agree, and ignoring them is an option. I'm personally interested in hearing out the haters and learning what valuable lessons are there. Partly this comes from finding out that my story just isn't compelling to people who don't know any programming or math, and wanting to learn how to craft a story that is compelling to more people.
> my story just isn't compelling to people who...
Your work should tell a story, and the method of creation is secondary. I totally appreciate if you used equations I can't even grasp, but my mother shouldn't know about that at all and she can still consider it nice.
There was a guy who posted here on HN, he used machine learning to create art and his mistake was that he revealed his method, the magic was gone, since it was not obvious how it was made.
I'm not a great artist or anything, I just see a pattern that art that grabs people's attention has some kind of message or relevance to the current age.
No, that's nonsense. Tons of art throughout history told no story and was still compelling. Pollock, Balanchine, Schoenberg, etc. did abstract works that tell no story. (In fact, Balanchine specifically made it a point to not have a story.)
And this, that story of creation, is the story that all generative art--as far as I've always understood the term--must share.
The art in generative art is for a large part the story of its creation, crystallised in the form of an algorithm.
Without that, you ultimately get computer-generated art or something. Which is often nice to look at, but has about the emotional impact of a fancy photoshop filter.
Compare to this artist, I forget her name (I think it's a she), wrote algorithms/instructions on paper, to be executed by a group of people (I think explicitly without her presence, IIRC). There's no computer involved and it's still generative art. It's entirely about the process.
Now of course most generative art is a mixture of the two, which is good because we like pretty things.
Those are problems, but I think you're accidentally digging backwards to find them. If you want to make a living in art, selling to collectors and galleries, it's really not about pragmatic economic concerns like these. It's about having a community of patrons and collectors who can't help but talk about and trade the work at galleries and dinner parties.
As that catches, people will inevitably surface the "good stories" and the reproduction of work will be managed in some way.
That hasn't happened in a way that's been explosive yet. Once a few superstars wow the right people and see their work anchor major gallery collections, there'll be a lot more room for smaller artists.
Personally, I wouldn't overthink the reasons why. Codifying them as "main problems" might just leave you missing opportunity when the winds change.
You might be completely right. Though I’m not sure I understand what you mean by digging backwards. The problems I see are, of course, the main problems I’ve personally run into. I have a hard time telling a compelling story to someone who doesn’t know anything about computers or math. When I look around, I can see that many other people have the same problem.
My point was that generative art is and always has been considered art by some people, but it still has issues convincing traditional artists.
> If you want to make a living in art, selling to collectors and galleries, it’s really not about pragmatic economic concerns like these
Just curious - have you actually tried selling art? This might be extremely presumptuous, but your statement sounds like lack of experience. It’s almost entirely about pragmatic concerns, so much so that it becomes harder to make art when you need to make a living. There are millions of people trying to make it in the art world and failing.
> It’s about having a community of patrons and collectors who can’t help but talk about and trade the work at galleries and dinner parties.
I don’t mean this to be rude at all, but this is a pure fantasy. There are almost zero living artists who have this kind of following, the only ones who do are famous, and they didn’t have this before they were famous.
> As that catches, people will inevitably surface the “good stories”
That depends on you giving them the good stories, right?
> Codifying them as “main problems” might just leave you missing opportunity when the winds change.
You might be right, point taken. They’re my “main problems”, and not necessarily yours or the future’s.
However, if you look around, you’ll see that the problems I called out have been problems for a long time, and they are problems with other genres too. Photography is also harder to value, because of it’s reproducibility, which is why it has never (yet) reached quite the same status as a Rembrandt painting or a Michelangelo sculpture. Hopefully you’re right and in the future, we can value the creativity itself, rather than the object.
Indeed. But I understand what you're seeing in my comment.
As a restatement: your art's marketability is firstly dependent on your style/genre/technique being in fashion. Generative art is a curiosity, but still isn't in fashion. You and I are probably not the ones to bring it into fashion; that'll happen when/if somebody well-connected pitches their work's story very well or a collector/curator pitches a their discovery story very well. Presumably, we both have better things to do than position ourselves for that, because it's a lifelong effort and a risky one.
So in the meantime, it's sort of a waiting game where we're left to either do our thing or direct ourselves towards a different style.
That said, stories do matter. But it's not hard to identify them, even for generative art. They just don't become the "good art stories" you're talking about until somebody creates the market and sets a standard.
And pragmatics like reproducibility and constraint absolutely matter, but again, the standard for what that means in generative art will be some collector/curator's discovery as the market develops. It's not the detail we need to worry about, because we can always make our work constrained in the necessary way when the time comes.
I guess what I'm saying is that being an experimental/emerging artist sometimes runs orthogonal to creating a market for our art. Creating that market (by struggling against "main problems") is a lot of work on it's own and takes away from either the making of art or from other parts of life.
And yes, it's frustrating.
> I guess what I'm saying is that being an experimental/emerging artist sometimes runs orthogonal to creating a market for our art.
Yes, I agree completely. I see your point more clearly that aside from value & narrative, there needs to be an environment that already supports generative art, both for its value and its narrative. This is what you meant about community, I misunderstood. You are right.
I think we're getting there, I'm fairly optimistic here. It seems like generative art is considered fine art by enough people that there's no longer a debate about whether it's art. Now we just need to wait and watch the best stuff bubble up.
To some extent, "generated by computer science techniques" seems like an interesting story? Maybe understanding how computer programs are designed and used is a specialized taste.
Then it's not generative art. Without the story, generative art is just procedural / computer generated art. And indeed because of the mass-production related reasons you name, that sort of art is less valuable.
Because why this particular instance, this random seed, and not the billions of others giving rise to similar-yet-not-similar artworks that never were? Without the story of the process, there is no answer to this question and it diminishes the value of the art to something that simply "looks nice". Maybe the story is just "because the artist randomly saw this particular one out of billions and decided they liked it enough" -- which isn't the best story, IMHO.
Generative art is really all about the process. You can have a camera on a plant, producing pseudo-random numbers that generate an image, video or sound. Now you have a story. You can do something similar but instead use the crowd of people walking past your art piece, and you have a different story. You can adapt the way it visualises so that it fits the story. But most importantly, you create a meaningful answer to the question "why this particular instantiation?"
It goes as far that the visualisation (or audio or whatever) can be relatively simple or unoriginal as long as the story behind it is REALLY interesting, you've got a great piece of generative art.
The reverse, however, is not. If you got a great visualisation, that is super intriguing to look at, yet the story behind it is merely an afterthought or almost non-existent, you've got a great piece of procedural / computer-generated art. It's not very good generative art if the process doesn't play a prominent role in the story. It might be nicer to look at, probably easier to sell because it looks nice and people are more likely to want to hang it on their walls. But making things because you want to sell them is craft (which is cool, if you want to make a living--of course you can do both).
> many art consumers will similarly buy when the story is right, and avoid art they love when it has a bad or boring story
What the hell is an "art consumer". If you want to sell something then yes, it's gotta have some utility value. That's what separates art from craft. I'm not sure how that's relevant. It sounds to me like your problem is with commercial exploitation of your art.
There's a certain arrogance in the statement that "art consumers" will avoid art they love if it has a boring story. Who do you think you are to decide for your audience what art they "really love" and what not. If you mean that they avoid art that they find like really, really PRETTY, but then avoid it because there is no story and it's just one instance out of billions of random seeds and value it appropriately, then that's a pretty superficial way to look at what it means to "really love" a piece of art.
Of course the story is important. The alternative is getting your craft up to the level that it outshines any possible lack of story.
I think the next several years will be really interesting for generative art. Consumers are getting more interested in it, and some of our tools and collective knowledge has really grown since the days of Flash and before. In some cases, we are revisiting old techniques with new & easier-to-use hardware, like AxiDraw pen plotters. It's allowing artists to iterate more quickly and become better curators of their output.
Open source and online tools like Glitch are helping share knowledge and ideas, and together the community is pushing each other toward more and more interesting results (conceptually, algorithmically and aesthetically). The community (mostly Twitter & IG) is one of the things that makes generative art so fun to be a part of.
Totally shameless self-plug: you can follow my own generative art on IG below . I hope to set up an online print shop in the coming months.
 - https://www.instagram.com/mattdesl_art
Eventually they get left in the island misfit quarter-done side projects well before I've gotten to playing with images.
Any advice? Stories on workflow? Is this all in processing?
I'd suggest Tim Holman's GenerativeArtistry as a starting point to get back into it.
Good luck! Feel free to ping me any time on Twitter or IG if you have any Qs about generative art.
 - https://github.com/mattdesl/canvas-sketch
 - https://mattdesl.svbtle.com/
 - https://generativeartistry.com/
This field is still in its infancy - I'm excited for the future.
I wrote a generative art algorithm a bit ago - check it out :D - https://anemy.github.io/concentric/#/
One of the randomizations I generated was uncannily like a winking eye. But sadly I only discovered the shareable link after I had lost it. Oh, the ephemeral nature of generative art!
So it just gets better and better, in response to what people actually enjoy!
Once I fell asleep while watching Star Trek Deep Space 9 on Netflix, and then half woke up after the Electric Sheep screen saver has kicked back in but I didn't realize it, so my brain struggled for several minutes trying to make sense of the never-ending wormhole sequence that I though was an out-of-control shuttlecraft lost in space!
In my experience consumers enjoy generative art, and are happy to buy generative work so long as its in a medium they are used to - such a as a print or plot - and are not interested in moving/digital screens.
Instead of picking a render and placing it for sale, show the buyers the software, show them the parameters and give them an option between a few renders to choose from. It makes it way more personal. People and popular culture are also much more tech savvy now and appreciative of elements of digital/internet culture.
This is just my opinion, but I believe many generative artists seem to put the algorithmic focus ahead of the aesthetic. From my experience if you treat the aesthetic as the primary objective and the technology as a tool it resonates better. Jared Tarbell and Manoloide both seem to do this, but have very different styles, and are by far my favorites in the space.
I don't get a lot out of the art side, but I have always been fascinated by this particular topic. Where little pieces of code, depending on some inputs, can generate some really fun output.
I mean, it's not generative art (with a few exceptions) but it definitely is computer art. In the early 2000s I went to demoparties that had over 2000 attendees. These were combined showcase/gallery events with competitions and live art. Imagine a LAN-party where no one's gaming, but instead coding, drawing or producing music (and socialising--because "real party is outside"). And when I go to check, the scene is still active today. That's gotta count for something, right? :)
I have tried using a gamedev engine. It worked OK, but there have got to be better suited tools out there.
Computers, Pattern, Chaos, and Beauty by Clifford Pickover.
OpenFrameworks and Cinder are probably a bit more powerful, but more difficult to use (built around c++).
Finally, you can just use raw drawing APIs (such as Canvas in the browser).
Good list of resources here:
There's tons of opensource audio/music generation software (ChucK, supercollider/overtone, csound, vcvrack), and there's a fun (expensive) world of modular synthesizers lurking around the corner (euclidean rhythm generation is a common technique, many people use logic gates with random of sequenced high/low signals to create interesting patterns, random voltage generation is used for pitches, etc).
If you go super far down the rabbit hole, I've seen examples of people doing generative visual art with a modular synthesizer, modulating video loop parameters, or running oscilloscopes. Anything is possible!
The only caveat is that if you're coming from a programming background (and it sounds like you are), it feels a little rudimentary and wonky. You might sometimes feel your style of approaching a problem straining against Processing's control flow and language constraints.
It allows live-coding sketches from Emacs to work really nicely.
If you were using a game engine to make generative 3d animations, maybe Houdini (sidefx.com) is something you’re interested in. (Other options: Maya, Blender)
The article had a couple of pointers for GAN based generative tools.
The first, more important question, is what kind of generative art do you want to make?
I much prefer it to Processing.
Laura Lashley ... https://m.facebook.com/laura.lashley.77/posts/picfp.15145307...
You can check out her profile here:
Great example: https://www.instagram.com/p/BltlYsgnVd9/?utm_source=ig_web_c...
I really enjoyed reading about the newer AI methods though.
Here are some of my drawings :)
Kinda loud, but kinda lovely.
Edit: Not that I believe DNA to ever be human readable, I'm referring to a level of abstraction that might be, and the expression of awe that art can evoke in relation to this and many other natural processes.
If you interested in generative art there is nice tool called Context Free Art: https://www.contextfreeart.org/ It's not as well known as Processing or other tools and that's a pity.
It reminded me of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlLqYBU8qsY
First, I want to say that I'm thinking about Generative Art in the context of "contemporary art," which despite sounding like it could apply to literally any art made in the current era actually denotes a specific social context and the set of people, institutions and works that constitute it. Some people call this "fine art" but I don't like the implied hierarchy and value judgment of that term. I think there's a separate case to be made that Generative Art is actually more akin to important historical craft and decorative arts traditions, which have great artistic importance and matter much more to many people than contemporary art. I mean "contemporary art" the way people usually mean it when they start institutions called "Museum of Contemporary Art" or "Contemporary Art Center."
Generative Art qua "contemporary art" seems to fit a pattern that you see a lot in startups: people who are into coding and technology enter a given field that they aren't so involved with and start applying their skills to it. As far as I know, the AirBnB people weren't running bed and breakfasts at the beginning, they were looking for problems to solve with technology. That worked great, for the most part: they identified concrete problems and found ways to solve them.
The odd thing about Generative Art, which seems to fit this pattern insofar as the energy and interest is coming much for from the tech side than the art side, is that art doesn't have any problems because it has no clear purpose. Any idea you may individually have about what art should do, or what makes art "good," can be easily defeated by famous counterexamples. Lots of important art declines to be beautiful, to start interesting conversations, or to care at all about the history of art, for example. In other words, no one ever sat on a bench in a contemporary art museum looking at paintings and, chin-on-fist, said "there has to be a better way!"
This article goes to great effort to insert Generative Art into the history of art, more or less finding math-y geometric art or artists who used algorithms. These artists were often doing so to resist earlier ideologies about the genius of the master's hand, or to pretend to escape their own subjectivity, rather than out of an enthusiasm for visual algorithms as a craft. I'd suggest those interested in contextualizing Generative Art historically also research "process art," which normally had a messier aesthetic but, like Generative Art, posited the activity of producing the artwork as the most expressive aspect of the artist's practice. The act of painting, for process art, would be more important than the painting itself, almost closer to performance art than any other movement. That certainly seems to fit the Generative Art ethos, which is often about the construction of a specific activity that leads to an uncertain result. That said, process art is associated with the 1970's.
We're about two decades into a deep rejection of art movements, which are inextricable from the problematic, exclusive teleology of modernism. A certain kind of person with a certain kind of power used to dictate what forms and ideas were important, and rewarded artists who fit the narrative and, well, were the same race and gender as all the other successful artists. These days, artists are generally expected to be individuals rather than to be swept up in some cultural wave. To be part of a group with such a narrow direction ("we make art using cutting-edge software!") subordinates the individuality of each artist and, I think, compromises their efforts to be successful in the field of contemporary art.
Therefor, I think that the project of including Generative Art as a movement into contemporary art discourse is probably quixotic. Instead, I'd suggest that we're likely to see more and more individual artists incorporate these tools, not just because they're neat tools but in service of their own unique aims. Simon Denny, for example, engages heavily with digital and start-up culture, but he does so (I would argue) from a place of critique and fascination about what the state of technology implies about both current society and human beings on some kind of fundamental level. I don't doubt that an individual artist could exclusively use Processing to make their work and have an art career. But they would need to make the case for themselves, rather than for Generative Art, and in my opinion the less they position themselves as representing a craft-driven community the more likely they are to be successful.
I did want to say that I really appreciate the effort in this article to highlight the contributions of women to Generative Art. This is very much in keeping with where the art world is at the moment. Just like tech, art has been the subject of extreme discrimination that is only just beginning to be improved, and there is broad consensus about that within the art world.