Books : reviews

Matt Pearson.
Generative Art.
Manning. 2011

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 4 April 2020

Artists have always explored new media, and computer-based artists are no exception. Generative art, a technique where the artist creates print or onscreen images by using computer algorithms, finds the artistic intersection of programming, computer graphics, and individual expression.

Generative Art presents both the techniques and the beauty of algorithmic art. In it, you’ll find dozens of high-quality examples of generative art, along with the specific steps the author followed to create each unique piece using the Processing programming language. The book includes concise tutorials for each of the technical components required to create the book’s images, and it offers countless suggestions for how you can combine and reuse the various techniques to create your own works.

This is an introduction to producing generative art using the Processing language. I had a brief fiddle around with Processing a while ago, and produced a little app for playing around with the superformula; I read this book to see how Processing is used for art. Processing was invented to be an “easy” language for artists to learn. In its original form, it is based on a stripped down version of Java. I discovered with a bit of Googling that there is also a Python Mode available, which I find preferable.

The book has an introduction to generative art, and introduction to Processing (Java Mode), and three example sections on its use for art: emergent swarming behaviour, cellular automata, and fractals. There are lots of good examples to copy and modify, and also lots of pictures of somewhat more sophisticated examples of generative art.

There is a lot of emphasis on adding noise and randomness to break away from perfection: [p51] There is a certain joylessness in perfect accuracy. Now, fractals are one area that can provide exquisite detail, but are they too accurate? I decided to take his advice, and add some randomness to the well-known Mandelbrot set: instead of a regular grid, I samples the space at random, and plotted a random-sized dot of the appropriate colour:

random Mandelbrot

It certainly has a different feel from the classic Mandelbrot set picture, but I’m not going to claim it as art. However, the Python Mode Processing code is certainly brief:

def setup():
    size(1200, 800)
def draw():
    cre,cim = random(-2.4,1.3),random(-1.6,1.6)
    x,y = 0,0
    n = 0
    while x*x + y*y < 4 and n < 8 :
        n += 1
        x,y = x*x - y*y + cre, 2*x*y + cim
    fill((n+2)*41 %256, (256-n*101) % 256, n*71 %256)
    r = random(2,15)

Note for publishers: don’t typeset your books in a minuscule typeface, grey text on white, with paper so thin that the text shows through, if you want anyone over the age of 25 to read it comfortably. I frankly skimmed in places. Nevertheless, this book should provide a good introduction to Processing for artists, providing basic skill that can then be incrementally upgraded as time goes by.