20.1 Introduction

This piece of art sold for $120,000 before being eaten (NYT).

Figure 20.1: This piece of art sold for $120,000 before being eaten (NYT).

Art is hard — particularly when it looks simple. When seeing an ancient Greek statue or portrait by Rembrandt, it’s pretty easy to acknowledge that the artist was immensely capable. But especially when looking at modern art (see Figure 20.1), we often get the impression “I could do this myself.” However, when we are honest, we have to admit that our own imitations of Jackson Pollock’s paintings (see Wikipedia) never quite match the originals, and our shreddered images or taped bananas get never sold at an auction. Thus, there are many things that sets art apart from non-art. What counts as art is difficult or impossible to define. This may partly be due to the way in which art plays with (and often frustrates) our expectations. It certainly has a lot to do with psychology: If someone put the Mona Lisa in a forest full of trees (or an underground safe?), nobody would see it. Art depends on being experienced and interpreted, thus partly becomes constructed in the mind of its recipient.

20.1.1 Encoded art?

Most immediate association when mentioning computers in the context of art: Mathematical descriptions of aesthetic properties (in terms of numbers and numerical relations) promise to “decode” art. Example of the golden ratio (see Wikipedia), which is closely connected to the Fibonnaci sequence (see Wikipedia) and fractal geometry.
Hope of discovering the underlying mechanisms that govern many processes in nature and natural laws of beauty.

However, beyond numbers and the mathematics of art, there are many other links, once we allow ourselves to adopt different perspectives on the properties of data and code.

Different types of objects:

  • Objects in computer code (data types and structures) vs. 
  • visual objects (printed text, images, sculptures) vs. 
  • non-visual objects (words, but also sounds and tunes).

Text as a complex mix of features:

  • Text as data: characters, words, paragraphs, etc. vs. 
  • Text as a collection of visual objects, with specific colors, shapes, sizes, etc.

20.1.2 Goals

Main goal here is not to create art, but rather:

  • Establish some links (between chapters and data types)

  • Develop some tools (functions) for creative expressions