Generative Art

Early this year in one of the rare moments we were allowed to visit the NGV, I was entranced by the display in the foyer – a huge screen with an endlessly dynamic pattern, shifting and heaving and transforming. This was Refik Anadol’s algorithmic ‘quantum memories’, a representative of a genre called Generative Art, which uses computer code, randomness, and algorithms to generate artwork. The images it generates use an AI program trained on millions of nature and landscape images harvested from the internet to generate an ever moving pattern that evokes a sense of an ever changing landscape, of flowing water, of waves ….

A still photo of the Quantum Memories, a huge, dynamic video installation that generates an ever changing pattern using complex computer algorithms, random numbers, and AI image construction (despite the title there seems to be nothing particularly “quantum” about this artwork ); Installation by Refik Anadol’, NGV 2021. Photo by GS

You can read more about generative art in Wikipedia, or do a web search.

In brief, Generative Art, also called Code Art or Algorithmic Art, generates artworks using autonomous systems that can automatically determine features of an artwork without direct human input. It often uses computer coding with random number generators to direct the generation of artistic images. The artistry draws inspiration from many sources. Sometimes it comes from the intrinsic beauty of the mathematics – think Mandelbrot Sets. Sometimes it draws inspiration from Pop Art and makes heavy use of geometric patterns.

Where does this fit in with photography? In Quantum Memories it draws on photography, and hence there is a clear nexus between Generative Art and photographic processing.I figured I could use the principles of generative art to transform photos in interesting (and unpredictable ways). With some hunting around I came across Michael Bromley’s Chromata which gave me some ideas to start with. That led me to the Processing software package, that simplifies some low level image processing using Java language and I used this to make my own Generative Art program Here is a small gallery of images I have made using this program.

I have now rewritten my code into Javascript (not related to Java, despite the name) using the P5js javascript library so I caould share my program via an interactive a web page. If you are interested to try this out using your own images, you can read more at

p5.js is a JavaScript library for creative coding, with a focus on making coding accessible and inclusive for artists, designers, educators, beginners, and anyone else! p5.js is free and open-source because we believe software, and the tools to learn it, should be accessible to everyone.
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