Focus On: Generative Art
Miami— December 1, 2020— Over the last 50 years, our world has turned digital at an extremely fast speed. Today, almost all aspects of our lives are driven by computation and algorithms: how we learn, work, play, and even date. In this sense, one could argue that Generative Art (work created with autonomous, predetermined systems such as rules or algorithms) best reflects our time.
We can find many examples of Generative Art throughout art history, including Minimalist and Conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s who constructed works based on number systems and formal rules. Iconic American artist Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) created work establishing a rubric of formal instructions that his assistants followed to create the works. For him, when having all of the planning and decisions made beforehand, the execution became a perfunctory affair. “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,” he wrote in his seminal 1967 essay Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.
Computers can process instructions at higher speeds and at a greater scale than the human brain, allowing artists to push the limits of expression in totally new ways . Pioneering artist Harold Cohen (British, 1928-2016) was considered one of the first practitioners of Generative Art when he used computer-controlled robots to generate paintings in the late 1960s. Back then, access to computers was extremely limited. Early representations of Generative Art performed by computers came from computer labs in universities and was initially rejected by the cultural establishment as the domain of computer scientists and mathematicians.
Since then, accessibility to technology has dramatically changed and so has our society. In the last two decades, computers and network connections have become commonplace in homes and Generative Art has gained important support from major institutions. Only in the last couple of years, museums have dedicated important exhibitions on the topic: “Artists & Robots,” at the Grand Palais (Paris, 2018); “Chance and Control: Art in the Age of Computers” at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 2018); “Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, 2018-2019); “Coding the World” at the Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2019); and “Face Values: Exploring Artificial Intelligence” at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (New York, 2020). Generative Art is here to stay.
There is something fascinating about art performed by computers following instructions created by humans–while the processes are deterministic, the results are not foreseeable. The computer acquires the power to surprise us, and the artwork becomes a collaboration between the computer and the artist. Our future is an exciting one that combines analog and digital, human and machine. Let the history of our generation be told through the narrative of the talented artists who embrace the new ideas and tools of our time.
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Photo- Sol LeWitt, 4th wall: 24 lines from the center, 12 lines from the midpoint of each of the sides, 12 lines from each corner, 1976, from all Drawing #289. Installation view of “Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Sept. 2018–April 2019. Photograph by Ron Amstutz. © 2020 Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Ron Amstutz. Courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.