Preface

Many art books are called that because they contain beautiful glossy color images of amazing artworks. This is not one of those books.

Some art books are called that because they are written about or by well-known artists. They discuss the life, trials, and works of these incredible people. This is not one of those books.

Some art books are called that because they contain the avant-garde, the postmodern, and the simply odd. This is not one of those books.

This is, in some sense, a textbook. The intention of the author is to show you, the reader, how to create art in a relatively new genre Ė generative art.

If you look up my name on the Internet you will see that I am a professor of Art. Thatís true, but I feel like a bit of a fraud, and the reason is that I have no training as an artist until I became a professor. I studied mathematics and computer science at university, but then I worked with artists of many kinds: musicians, actors, writers, dramaturges, painters, and photographers. The new information to which I was exposed sunk in, and if I am an artist now it is by osmosis, not by training. I hope thatís OK.

I was known for work in image processing and vision in the 1990ís as an academic. But then, in 1998, I registered for and attended the Game Developerís Conference, and my life was changed. The energy there was incredible. People everywhere were completely enthralled by their work. They were having fun. They were doing things and speaking about things that I had not heard about in my academic venues, and they were fascinating things. Moreover, their work had an immediate impact on people. It was not about computers, but about what a designer and artist could do with them.

I began working with artists then. I was, to my great surprise and honor, allowed to be a part of the Prairie Collective, a group of artists in my area who were working on experimental performance and installation art. I was allowed to work on more traditional theatrical productions, like Antigone. I have worked on live online theatre, displayed my work in exhibitions, and even sold some. But I am still a programmer at heart.

This book arose from my experiences as an Ďartistí and my desire to return something to the discipline. My work in Art has changed me and helped me. It has caused me to think differently about myself and the world. So, if a computer programmer can read this and have a similar experience then it will make me feel as if I have succeeded. If an artist reads this book and learns how to create works in a generative way then I have succeeded again.

I presume some willingness to do new things, but no previous programming experience. The mathematical knowledge needed to proceed through the book is low, high school math basically. I am keen to hear from people who had trouble with the math, and will post new material on the Internet that I think may help. The same with the programming material. I teach a University class named Programming for Artists and using Processing as the language, but I know that each person has their own personal difficulties with a subject such as this.

For the computer programmers reading this I have other matters to share. Art is not the same as visualization. A visual artist creates an image that has both aesthetic value and meaning. Using a computer does not alter that fact. Generative art is really the art of the algorithm, and so both artists and programmers have a problem to solve: how to describe accurately and in detail a visual form that has both appeal and significance. This work of art may include elements that have a random aspect.

Randomness is a key factor in the real world and in art. The world has many things that appear random, but which in fact are simply the combination of many interacting processes. The flow of traffic on a main artery is really the result of a great many decisions made by individuals about what time to depart, where to travel, and what route to take. They each have distinct driving habits. The result is a random-seeming arrangement of vehicles on the road. One could simulate all of the details of this, or simply make it look random.

Human drawings and paintings have a similar property. A human cannot draw a perfectly straight line, but a computer has trouble doing anything but that. To give a computer artwork a human quality one must inject a degree of randomness into its creation. Lines canít be perfect, nor can color or shading otherwise they appear computer generated (even if they are) and hence emotionless, without the touch of the artist. Artists are directly involved in generative art, but it must appear as if that is so or sometimes the work will be rejected. A computer canít comment on human affairs, and canít represent human feelings.

Art is a fundamentally human exercise. Most of human activity involves art: we decorate our caves, we try to make our homes distinctive; we turn the simple action of eating into art. We sing, we dance, for no practical reason. Everything we do becomes art eventually.

And, of course, itís fun. If you are not having fun then you are doing it wrong.





J Parker on top of Big Hill Alberta, December 2018