5Generative Art Theory

Philip Galanter


What people often find most fascinating in the realm of digital art are not the replacements of physical tools by computer applications such as Adobe Photoshop™ or Corel Painter™, but rather works in which the computer seems at times to directly create the art on its own. To date there is, of course, an artist behind the scenes, creating the situation that allows the computer to act this way. Nevertheless, the relative independence of the computer is perceived as being qualitatively different from the characteristics of other tools in art history.

Art created by means of an apparently autonomous system or process is most frequently referred to as “generative art,” a realm of digital art practice that has boomed since the start of the 21st century. In fact, the growth of generative digital art has been so robust that, for many people, “generative art” and “computer art” have become synonymous terms. In this chapter I hope to show that generative computer art is in fact a subset of the larger field of generative art. It will be seen that generative art can leverage virtually any kind of system, not just computers, and that it in fact is as old as art itself.

It is in some ways natural that “computer artists,” in their enthusiasm for a relatively new field, would want to claim the term “generative art” exclusively for themselves. To many people the computer seems uniquely suited to independently generate visuals and sounds of aesthetic ...

Get A Companion to Digital Art now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.