Generative art can be narrowly defined as a creative partnership between humans and autonomous, non-human systems. Yet one could make the argument that all artists are generative because all are shaped by random, deterministic powers like the art world, our cultures, and the tools available. My artists collaborate with machine intelligence, computers, software, code, data, and math to create their visions of expanded human potential.
The story of tech-based generative art has its origins in the late 40s when, appropriately enough, a map maker/sign painter, Ben Laposky, was inspired by a 1947’s, Popular Science article. The writer proposed using TV testing equipment to make decorative patterns from electronic signals. Laposky began experimenting with an oscilloscope, a machine that measures and displays the amplitude and frequency of electronic signals.
His “electronic abstractions” or “oscillon” as he called them produced fascinating images and by 1953, he was exhibiting his oscillon photographs in museums and galleries; winning awards and accolades. In the early 1960s, Laposky was joined by computer scientists Kenneth Knowlton, Frieder Nake, Doris Totten, and others who worked directly with early computers. Bell Labs invited contemporary artists to their offices to experiment side-by-side with the computer experts. And in 1968, abstract painter Harold Cohen, crossed the “generative singularity” when he built and programed the first AI painting machine AARON.
From the 1960s on, artists from the Fluxus, Minimalist, and Post-Modern movements used faster computers, bigger TVs, Xerox printers, video cameras, and body sensors to push the possibilities. Lillian Schwartz created generative videos and prints, Jeffery Shaw explores interactivity. Jennifer Steinkamp creates monumental video walls, and Cory Arcangel re-purposes games into cartoonish profundity.
Their works are good examples of the machine aesthetic or “Technical Sublime,” the term art philosopher Mario Costa, coined along with “aesthetics of flux” to describe generative video’s sentient presence and random dynamics. Steven Sacks’ Bitforms Gallery in New York was an early leader in all things generative, and Sacks has supported many innovations including art-ready TVs.
As computational power leaps forward constantly pushing humans beyond human boundaries again and again, the hardware has pushed on too. TV’s are now equipped for viewing video. I love the thought of Laposky’s Oscilloscope, but I prefer using TVs and thumb drives to play my art: moving and still. Push pause on the remote and a video becomes a still. Upload your files to the cloud and customize your playlists forever. Generative is a new way to make, view, and live with smart art.
Generative Art Project opened in East Austin, Texas in June, 2018. James Pricer and I are partners and co-owners of the gallery. He is a generative artist and former data scientist, and I’m director of the gallery and a former art columnist. My interests in science and history drew me to generative imagery when I began writing about art in 1999. I wondered as we approached the turn of the century how artists would respond to the new “information age.” Historically speaking, art has been a wonderful resource, allowing us to see over time how populations represented themselves. Over the past few decades science and technology have become a dominate presence in our lives. Generative art is uniquely positioned to reflect on the intersection of humans and machines because it is the outcome of that hybrid relationship and the child of the singularity. – Julia Morton 12/2018
Location: 1621 East 6th Street, Suite 1107, Austin, TX 78702
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Generative Art Project
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