Closed systems: Generative Art and Software Abstraction by Marius Watz | Reflection Essay



Closed systems: Generative Art and Software Abstraction

by Marius Watz

While generative art is usually associated with pixels, it is not a compulsory criterion. It is also not necessary to be interactive, even though it is commonly open sourced. The most important factor of Generative art is its unpredictability, and its system of “growing” from given information.

Watz states that “Forms produced by generative systems often take on a complex nature, exploiting principles of emergence to produce structures that could not be made by human hands.” I agree with this statement; to me, the beauty of generative art is how precise, random and unpredictable it can be, and this is usually associated with numbers. This is very different from creating something from scratch, such as with clay or paintings. There is a lot more calculation and precision work involved. Then again, it should not be misunderstood that generative art can only come in the form of digital work.

Watz also mentions that it is difficult to simulate organic behaviour through computation, yet at the same time it helps in the virtual simulation due to the computer’s ability to generate and replicate the same sequence of code over and over again in an array without manual input. In this sense I think this is interesting because while it sounds like generative art is a double-edged sword with irony to top it off; it can be so precise but unnatural if you are not precise enough.

To add on, without the existence of computation, people would not even be open to the idea of generative art, as it is too tedious to execute while incorporating subtle changes to signify the growth of the art piece.

A common conception brought up is how the birth of generative art signifies the death of interactive art, as it in a way dampens the experience of open sourced art because the art can generate by itself when it is computational.

However, I feel that this conception is a misunderstanding because generative art is not necessarily digital, and even if it is digital it can also be open sourced. There are just many different types of generative art that is not limited to automated digitalization.

Ultimately generative art, while being heavily linked to software and digitalization, it is not about what the computer can do. Generative art is more about how real-time and self-contained art is still a form of art even if it is digital. Digitalization does not represent a loss in art; it is an addition to the scope and variety of how art can be portrayed. We should ultimately not see art done with software as an evil but as a different art form.

Generative Art Example: Smoke Water Fire 2016


Smoke Water Fire (2016)

by Mark J. Stock

Smoke Water Fire is a digital video that represents a virtual simulation of fluid flow. This piece can also be viewed in VR. It is rendered in 360-3D format, and rendered using Radiance,  synthetic lighting simulation software. This artwork highlights the dynamics of fluid flow and its universality. With no name plastered on the visual simulation and its changes, it gives us freedom to decide how we perceive fluid flow in this virtual simulation. The conventional perception is stripped, and we are given the autonomy to understand how fluidity actually works- through dynamic, ever-changing flow.

This artwork is interesting to me because it plays around with the perception of depth, as well as generative and degenerative elements in its digital simulation. It is a generative piece because we cannot really predict where the next change of motion of the “fluid” will take place at. Simply by subtracting or adding elements to its code, a fairly accurate depiction of fluid flow can be created and I think this is pretty cool. Just because we are dealing with numbers and code does not mean that we cannot create an actual visual representation of something very real and natural to us. Additionally, I think that it is interesting that that is an irony that an accurate depiction of something so natural is done using something so calculated (albeit random).

I feel that it relates to my own creative interests because I am someone who likes to deal with surprises and unpredictability when it comes to creation. I also like telling stories. I know they contradict each other because stories usually follow a linear storyline whereas unpredictability does not exactly fall into that line of thought. However, having an unpredictable motion that gels a whole story together in the most unexpected but pleasant way is something I like to work with, which I also feel is present in this work. In a way, this art work can be depicted as the story of fluid; where it tells us the journey of how a fluid develops and moves through its existence.