Avant Advisory is a series of guides made to demystify art and collecting. Tell us what you'd like to know.
1 · What does Generative Art mean?
In short, generative art is art that has been created with the use of an autonomous system. An autonomous system is one that uses a non-human decision maker, like an algorithm or some dice, to determine characteristics without direct input from a sentient creator. A human, for instance.
That might sound high-tech, but people have been experimenting with generative methods for centuries. Even Mozart played Musikalisches Würfelspiel – a game where the order of musical phrases in a composition is determined by the roll of a dice.
2 · What is the history of Generative Art?
Generative Art as we know it today was anticipated in the mid 20th century, through movements like Conceptualism and Minimalism. Artists such as Sol LeWitt, Bridget Riley and John Cage were playing with the idea of unpredictability within systems. At the same time, philosopher Max Bense was developing his theory of generative aesthetics which he described as “the artificial production of probabilities of innovation or deviation from the norm.”
With the dawn of the computer, these possibilities were unleashed. Bense’s students put his theory into practice and went on to produce the first algorithms for generative art. These experiments were associated with technological advancements at Bell Labs, NASA and IBM to name a few – and early generative artists were most often computer scientists.
As new coding languages were created and tested, suddenly 0s and 1s could create beautiful works of art. And the art world was taking note. In 1968 the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London held an exhibition of computer generated art called Cybernetic Serendipity. The term generative art, however, would not be coined for another 30 years.
With the advent of the internet generative art was democratised. Personal computing was on the rise, while creative coding tools such as Processing, PJ5 and Adobe Flash that helped translate strings of code into visual outputs made generative art more accessible. However collecting these system-based artworks was tricky, and they were not straightforward for galleries to exhibit.
3 · Generative Art, or generative art?
Similarly to other capitalised terms like Surrealism or Abstract Expressionism, 'Generative Art with a capital G' refers to a specific artistic movement. In this case, contemporary generative art located on the blockchain. The same phrase without capitals is still used to refer to the broader category of generative art in relation to its definitive mechanics.
4 · Is Generative Art the same as AI art?
Since Generative Art (capital G) refers specifically to art on-chain, and artificial intelligence (including AI-generated art) is another key player in the Web 3.0 arena, the two are often confused. While many Generative artists use artificial intelligence tools and software such as Midjourney to help realise the visual outputs of their coding, the two are not the same.
According to Generative artist Tyler Hobbs, “at the core of the generative process is creative coding – writing programs that generate artwork.” Generative scripts are designed so that one string of code can have multiple outputs. From there, the artist can run the script to create a series of unique artworks. Another option is a smart contract. When a collector purchases a work via a smart contract, the algorithm is triggered to generate a work of art previously unseen by both artist and collector. All of this can happen without the involvement of artificial intelligence.
My programs are varied because of the randomness that I carefully build into them. They often generate 100 or 200 images, from which I select my favourites. I choose the ones that stand out to me instinctively, and show the 'range' that the program is capable of.Tyler Hobbs
5 · What does 'the goose' have to do with all of this?
Dmitri Cherniak is the Generative artist behind Ringers – a series of iterations of a generative, abstract artwork minted as NFTs. The code visualises strings wrapped around pegs as lines and circles. A fan pointed out that one of the works, #879 to be exact, looked like a goose. The nickname stuck, and a viral meme was born. One thing led to another and it sold for $6.2 million dollars at Sotheby’s – one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world.
There are 1,000 Ringers in total. Each one is contingent on a series of algorithmic steps. First, a grid of circular pegs is generated. The number and size of pegs can vary. Next, the pegs are 'sampled' to determine how many of them will be used in step three. Based on the sampled pegs, a 'centre of gravity' is calculated to guide the artwork's form. Here, Cherniak uses a mathematical function (an average) to enforce an artistic objective (a balanced composition). The pegs are then 'sorted' to make sure the subsequent connections do not overlap too much and the overall effect is harmonious. From here, the algorithm ascertains the appropriate angles, arcs and tangents to connect the sampled pegs. Finally, colour. For Ringers, Cherniak devised a palette of black, white, yellow, red, blue, green and beige – inspired in part by Lygia Pape's Livro Do Tempo. The frequency of individual colours is set across the entire series, ensuring a level of cohesion between indivudual Ringers when seen en-masse.
6 · Why is Generative Art important?
Generative Art speaks to our current moment. More and more our lives are governed by algorithms. It’s reassuring to think that within the rigidness of the system there is still room for chance, for randomness and – above all – for creativity.
With the ability to put collectors at the heart of the creation process, there is a collective consciousness among the Generative Art community unlike any other in the art world. Rather than posing a threat to art as we know it, Generative Art is creating connection and collaboration between collectors and artists in much the same way that is has between humankind and machines.