mathematics as a basis for art

Last evening, during one of our coffee-shop meanderings, I started thinking about generating patterns from a string of numbers, and see if a more complex “artlike” graphic comes out of it. Granted “artlike” is subjective, in this case, I’m taking it to mean if more than 50% of the people who view it will think it was deliberately created by a human artist using pen/brush strokes.

There’s been a lot of work around pattern generation using cellular automata, and also sound/noise generation using string of numbers.. This is my attempt to mimic that process from the grounds up.

To generate these larger patterns, we can start with three basic grouping of things.. numbers, glyphs and the length or width of the finished graphic.

For the numbers, one could programmatically come up with a “number generator” that can spit out a list of numbers following some algorithm that’s replicable.. (like a fibonacci series, or pascals triangle or some fractal function)

For the glyphs, one would have to come up with a basic set of graphic representations for the numbers.
One simple way would be to re-represent the individual numbers by some other thing like “-” for 1, “|” for 2, etc. the problem with that is multiple digit numbers will end up producing larger numbers of glyphs that may affect the length/width of the end graphic.

One could take that further by creating a transformation function, that takes a number from the number_generator and tranforms it to a glyph of fixed width based on some algorithm.

Then one would have to have a lenth/width generator that spits out the length (in repetions, how many glyphs) and the width of the graphic. one could also just generate one dimension either the length or the width, and keep the other open, so you could keep adding glyphs row by row or column by column. The length width generator could also depend on different inputs, like the max number of numbers generated by the number generator (or say, the weather pattern currently like the ambient temperature of one’s location)

Some fun things to try would be what we see in the real world..
for number generators, we could use the human genome, gene sequences mapped to numeric representations.. one could try base 4 (ATGC) and convert it to base 10 etc..

For glyph transformers one could use image thumbnails, say, map flickr images to numbers,

One could do the same with music (or sound -depending on what you call music). instead of glyphs, one would have a note generator, and instead of length/width, one could have length and scale or something like that.. then one could truly listen to the sound of nature

Lots of stuff out there on the net on this, just search for “algorithmic art” or “alorithmic music” or something like that..
There were even two links about it in today’s boing boing:
mathematical art
pi as music


2 thoughts on “mathematics as a basis for art

  1. You said, “Granted “artlike” is subjective, in this case, I’m taking it to mean if more than 50% of the people who view it will think it was deliberately created by a human artist using pen/brush strokes.”

    Hmmm that is a definition that I haven’t seen before.

    If you are interested in making digital imagery look like it is done by the human hand then you should check out Corel “Painter”. I think you would want algorithms similar to “Painter” on the tail end of your generative program. By the way I don’t consider these beautiful generative images that you talk about as being “Art” I call it “Math”; the two genres require two different aesthetics. Until someone writes a critical essay on how generative mathematical imagery is an extension of the cultural and historical lineage of Art, described in the context of Art history, then I will continue to call it math. Furthermore the essay would need to create criteria for judging the imagery for its artistic value as opposed to its mathematical value.

  2. Your input is appreciated. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t trying to define art for everyone, just what I would consider art for the purposes of this article.

    However, just for the sake of questions, would you consider music an artform? Would you then consider generative music as art? There are relationships between math and music. With your argument would music be math? maybe.

    Defining art is a philosophical conundrum that I don’t think I’m qualified to have a discourse on. I’ll leave that upto other folks, perhaps, like yourself.

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