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This statement summarizes my views at the turn of the century (1999-2000).



ALGORITHMIC ART : Composing A Visual Arts Score 

By Roman Verostko (c)2000

A New Frontier. 

For over 40 years I have painted pure visual forms ranging from controlled constructions with highly studied color behavior to spontaneous brush strokes and automatic drawing. Such art has been labeled variously as "concrete", "abstract", "non-objective", and "non-representational" (Note 1). In its purest form such art does not re-present other reality. Rather  "it is" the reality.  One contemplates a pure form similar to the way one might contemplate a fine vase or a seashell.  Radically new procedures for creating such art emerged in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century.  With the advent of computers I began composing original detailed instructions for generating forms that are accessible only through extensive computing. (Note 2) These procedures opened a vast array of pure form, an uncharted frontier of unseen worlds waiting to be discovered and concretized (Note 3).  My on-going work concentrates on developing my program of procedures, the score, for visualizing these forms. By joining these procedures with fine arts practice I create aesthetic objects to be contemplated much as we contemplate the wondrous forms of nature.

Algorithmic form generators. When I was a child a "computer" was a human person hired to do computation. (Note 4)  These human computers had to follow rigorous step-by-step procedures for their computations. Such procedures are algorithms. Following the war, mechanical calculators and computing machines began replacing the work of human "computers". These machines followed the same algorithms as those used by the humans. Soon algorithms were driving robots such as welding and milling machines in factories. Today we have algorithms driving our bread making machines and monitoring our bank accounts.

From prehistoric times human craft has been algorithmic. The procedures for weaving baskets and fashioning hunting tools gradually evolved as they passed from one generation to the next.  A better algorithm meant a better product! Algorithms in the arts would include the composer's score, the architect's plan and the choreographer's dance notation.  Given sufficient detail and a sufficiently robust language, any procedure for executing a task can be translated into a computer compatible instruction (algorithm). A computer, connected to appropriate machinery, can execute instructions for playing music, drawing a form, or displaying a figure moving in space.

The greater part of my creative work in the past 15 years has been developing art form generators that I integrate into my exploration of "unseen form". These are original detailed procedures, for initiating and improvising form ideas. Such form generators may be likened to biological genotypes since they contain the code for generating forms. The procedure for executing the code, somewhat analogous to biological epigenesis, grows the form (Note 5).  The creation and control of these instructions provides an awesome means for an artist to employ form-growing concepts as an integral part of the creative process. Such routines provide access to countless visual worlds that constitute a new frontier of visual forms for the artist.

The Work. 

Works are executed with a multi-pen plotter coupled to a PC driven by the software. The plotter, choosing from an array of pens loaded with pigmented inks, draws each individual line.  Most works require thousands of lines with software controlled pen changes (Note 6).  An optional brush routine allows the occasional substitution of a brush for a pen.  Brush strokes are plotted with brushes adapted to the machine's drawing arm. One series of illuminated digital scripts is reminiscent of medieval manuscripts. Many of these works are enhanced with a touch of gold or silver leaf applied by hand. However, the design elements illuminated with gold are always code generated and machine plotted.

Content and Meaning. 

Over the years the software has evolved by stages yielding a series of works for each stage - Pathway, Gaia, Glyph, Scarab, Apocalypse and Ezekiel. Each of these series has distinctive formal qualities associated with its form generators. None of the works are made with intentional representations in mind. Rather, each work presents one more adventure into an uncharted world of forms. This art does not re-present some sort of subject or object.  Just as a botanist might label a newly discovered flower so also I label this or that newly made visual form or series of forms. Titles are therefore arbitrary and often derived from evocative qualities associated with the work.

The art works are visual manifestations of the dynamic procedures by which they grew. They may be viewed as visual celebrations of the information processing procedures embedded in today's culture. The finished works invite us to savor the mystery of their coded procedures whose stark logic yields a surprising grace and beauty. These procedures provide a window on those unseen processes from which they are grown. By doing so they serve as icons illuminating the mysterious nature of our evolving selves. 



1 First generation pioneers whose work opened this new reality for me included Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Kasimer Malevic, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner. back>

2 Other algorists following a similar path were unknown to each other at the beginning.  During the 1980's we came to know each other mostly through the SIGGRAPH, ISEA and Ars Electronica art shows.   Pen plotter artists who achieved a mature body of work by 1990 included Mark Wilson, Vera Molnar, Jean Pierre Hebert, Manfred Mohr and Hans Dehlinger.  See: www.solo.com/studio/algorists.html    back to statement>

3 Those drawn to view culture with neo Darwinian spectacles will relish the evolution of this art. Writing on the new biology of machines Kevin Kelly identified "The Library of Form", a frontier hyperspace of form pioneered by Carl Simms (Chapter 14, Out of Control, 1994).  back>

4 When Alan Turing published his famous paper in 1936 "computers" referred to the clerks who performed computations.  For documentation on Roman's presentation of Universal Turing Machine portraits see:  www.verostko.com/tur-doc.html  back to statement>

5 The term epigenesis, borrowed from biology, refers to the process whereby a mature plant (phenotype) is grown from a seed or genotype (DNA). By analogy, the artwork (phenotype) is grown from the algorithm (genotype). The procedures for growing the work may be viewed as epigenetic. The algorithm (genotype) for each series of works is capable of generating a family of forms with each being one of a kind. This procedure was employed in Roman's limited edition of Boole's Derivation of the Laws. See "Epigenetic painting: software as genotype" in Leonardo 23:1, a seminal paper presented at the 1988 Utrecht ISEA. back>

6 See Art and Algorithm  (www.verostko.com/algorithm.html), which addresses procedures and issues related to an artist's use of algorithms. back>


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