Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Algorithmic Art

A fractal by Peter Raedschelders
Can computers generate art?  Can an algorithm be represented visually in a way that could be termed artistic or even beautiful?

The field of digital art, in which digital technology is used in some critical part of the creative process, dates back to the 60s when Frieder Nake began exhibiting his works in Germany.  Today, there are many different subfields of digital art, one of which is algorithmic art, in which the focus is on creating algorithms that a computer uses to generate art.

The simplest form of algorithmic art is based on fractals, which is a geometric object that displays self-similarity at all scales.  Now matter how far you zoom in, the pattern repeats:

Yale University has an excellent collection of online materials used to accompany a course on fractal geometry for students without a strong math background.

The term fractal was coined by Benoît B. Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, who passed away earlier this month.  One of his students at Yale was Ken Musgrave, who Mandelbrot called "the first true fractal-based artist."  Musgrave has a gallery of synthetic fractal images that is astounding in its beauty.  Here are several works that caught my eye:
Emil, by Ken Musgrave
Moontrail, by Ken Musgrave
Slickrock III, by Ken Musgrave
Zabriskie Point, by Ken Musgrave
Of Zabriskie Point, Musgrave says:
In many ways, "Zabriskie Point" characterizes the best aspects of my work. It was designed and executed as a technical illustration for an article on the model of the mirage which appears in the foreground (IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, November 1990). But it also embodies sophisticated aesthetics in the color and composition, and it represents (what I call) successful self-expression for the artist. It was featured in the SIGGRAPH '91 art show and in the Communications of the ACM, July 1991, among other places."
Musgrave now sells software that enables you to create your own virtual worlds, with an incredible amount of detail.