Panel: Arabesque, Mandala, Algorithm: A Long History of Generative Art
According to one possible narrative, the history of computer graphic imaging has privileged verisimilitude, attempting to achieve a virtual image that imitates optical reality as faithfully as possible. This account posits an evolutionary trajectory for computer graphics beginning at rudimentary pixel-based figures and progressing towards richly layered, volumetric visualizations of an alternate world whose properties mirror our own. This history may or may not hide the fact that this virtual world is often visualized as if it were captured by a camera; the camera-based image is simulated by encoding a mathematical model of a picture as it would appear through a lens, with a specific field of view and focal length <#_ftn1> . So already, computationally generated pictures analogize and favor the visual qualities of a world seen through a camera lens. Thus, they would seem to tend inherently towards the particular qualities of virtuality, and the visual distortions, produced by a camera. But there is an alternate tradition of computational abstraction that revels in the facility of the computer to render visual equivalents of abstract mathematical calculations. There are examples of such screen-based abstraction that generate imagery based on formulae for physical forces such as gravity, or painterly compositions that emerge as a result of inputting random values into an algorithm encoding change over time. This paper assesses whether or not there are a set of principles with which cameraless, computationally based abstractions are concerned, and what kind of “world” is imagined through this algorithmically generated visual model. Taking into account the history of abstraction in modern art, it considers whether computational abstraction fits into a modernist narrative or whether it envisions a new call to order distinct from that set forth by 20th century modernist movements.
- Meredith Hoy is Assistant Professor of Contemporary Art in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA. Her dissertation, entitled From Point to Pixel: A Genealogy of Digital Aesthetics, traces links between contemporary digital art and modern painting. Drawing on theories of visuality, space and spatial practice, cybernetics and systems theory, phenomenology, and post-structuralism and semiotics, her research focuses on the impact of technology on art and visual culture. She has written on modern and contemporary art and architecture, generative art, information visualization, and the phenomenology of networked space.
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