Saturday, March 7th, 2020

Coding Beauty: Creating Procedural Art

What art would a robot create?

My favorite method of productive procrastination is either coding or art. A few years ago, I put the two together.

What does it look like when you let a robot start making art? To find out, I write a few simple algorithms. Then I let the code pick random parameters, I hit enter, and out comes art that has never been seen before.

The question I’m always asking is: why do we find certain things beautiful or appealing or interesting? Is it based on pattern recognition or something more?

You can see my experiments here. Keep in mind, when you click on one of these little robotic art projects, you will be getting a piece of art custom made for you. They are randomly generated. You might like it. If you don’t, click again. Ask yourself why you find one thing better than another. Right now there are 86 different algorithms to choose from.

Some of my favorites: Yarrow, Tree, Swoosh, Snowflake, and Moiré Petals.

I write in these in PHP. Sometimes I’ll use Javascript or the Processing library as well, which allow animation as well (you’ll find those experiments on Instagram).

Monday, January 25th, 2016

I Wonder: M.C. Escher

Lithograph of "Waterfall" by M.C. Escher

Waterfall by M.C. Escher

The art of M. C. Escher is, in a word, interesting. The word “interesting” is often a euphemism, especially in art, for “weird and I don’t like it.” Not in this case though. It creates interest. It naturally generates interest in what is going on within the piece. I have yet to see someone not react to it.

On Wednesdays we warm up with “I Wonder.” As students walk in they grab a whiteboard and look at the screen to see an image or looping video. Their job: Write in two columns what they notice and what they wonder.

For the Waterfall image, they noticed these things:

  • black and white
  • drawing, not a photograph
  • there’s a waterfall
  • there are two weird shapes on top of the columns
  • there are steps in the background
  • weird plants that should be underwater
  • stairs
  • someone doing laundry
  • the water is going the wrong way / optical illusion

Of course the last one is where I’m hoping they’ll go. Here’s what they wondered:

  • why is the water going the wrong way?
  • are those weird shapes actually puzzles for a giant?
  • who lives in the house on the left?
  • is this on another planet?
  • could you actually build this in real life?

They have about 3 minutes to write quietly, then we gather all their observations on the board. After some great discussions about paradoxes and optical illusions I reveal what this is and introduce them to the artist M. C. Escher (not a rapper).

If someone were to ask, “This isn’t math! Why are you doing this?”, how would you respond?

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