Generativity, Randomness and Repetition

Art making through mathematical principles and mechanical devices has a long history that precedes computers and automation.

More images here

See also Laleh Mehran and Engare



From Drawing Machines

Jaquard Loom with perforated cards, 19th century

These complex machine would inspire Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace) to design the earliest computing machines, the Difference and Analytical Engines.
Even if these devices were mostly theoretical, Lovelace already had the intuition that they could manipulate other things besides mere numbers.

 “The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

“[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”
-Ada Lovelace 1843


Sketchpad Ivan Sutherland MIT 1963 the origin of CADMachines (and later computers) for drawing have obvious applications in industrial design, textiles, and architecture. They allow a precision, repetition, and modularity that would be otherwise unachievable “free hand”.But can these technologies be employed to add more chaos and unpredictability in artmaking?
Can artists hack technical apparatuses to relinquish some control over their creative process?
Tinguely, swiss kinetic sculptor known for the self destructing machine. In the 50s produced a body of work known as metamatics. A parody of American action painting.
In the same period matematician and artist Ben Laposky (American from Iowa),made the first computer generated images, photographing the output of an oscilloscope.

Desmond Paul Henry (British) used bombsight analogue computers which were employed in World War II bombers to calculate the accurate release of bombs onto their target.

These artists seemed to be fascinated by the apparent randomness (unpredictability) of these machines and let them “do their thing”.

On the opposite side of the spectrum there is Sol LeWitt who didn’t use computers but conceived many of his works as a series of instructions. As if they were meant to be created by machines (art gallery interns).

Sol LeWitt, Successive Rows of Horizontal, Straight Lines from Top to Bottom, and Vertical, Straight Lines from Left to Right, 1972
Sol Lewitt, Wall Drawing #136: Arcs and Lines, 1972, Dia Beacon

Modules for Arcs and Lines
What is the status of authorship and ownership when the works are just instructions that anybody can execute?

Computer art

Early computer art leaned toward drawing because the most common way to get an artwork out of a (gigantic) computer was the plotter.  Georg Nees 1965-1968.In the mid-60 computer begin to become relatively more accessible and the first printers (plotters) become available.
Georg Nees – Schotter 1968.
Nees had to write his own graphics libraries. His works often deals with order vs disorder.
He also made the world’s first computer-generated sculpture in 1968 using a computer aided milling machines.
Vera Molnar Interruptions-1968-69.
Check this re-code article.The computer art movement was international. Vera Molnar was a French Hungarian artist. Unlike many early computer artists she came from a traditional art background (abstract painting, rebelling against the figurative education she got in Hungary).Vera Molnar (Des)Ordres, 1974
“I have no regrets. My life is squares, triangles, lines” – Vera Molnár


Vera Molnar, Love Story 1974

Vera Molnar. Letters from My Mother 1988

“My mother had a wonderful hand-writing. There was something gothic in it (it was the style of writing of all well-educated ladies in the Habsburg monarchy in the early XXth century) but also something hysteric. The beginning of every line, on the left side, was always regular, severe, gothic and at the end of each line it became more nervous, restless, almost hysteric. As the years passed, the letters in their totality, became more and more chaotic, the gothic aspect disappeared step by step and only the disorder remained.”

Manfred Mohr – P-62 (floating points). German, background in abstract expressionism and jazz.
Offset lithograph on paper from plotter drawing (fine art prints).

Manfred Mohr – P-18 (random walk) 1969/1970In 1969, access to computers was difficult owing to their size and cost. Mohr applied to the Paris Institut Météorologique for permission to use their computer and plotter. It is likely that he created this drawing whilst at the Institute.Walk Through Raster, Frieder Nake 1966 (Germany)
Frieder Nake, Nr. 2 (also known as Hommage to Paul Klee) 1965

“The anti-computer response came from several sources, both humanist and anti-humanist. The first originated with mainstream critics whose strong humanist tendencies led them to reproach computerised art for its mechanical sterility. A comparison with aesthetically and theoretically similar art forms of the era reveals that the criticism of computer art is motivated by the romantic fear that a computerised surrogate had replaced the artist. Such usurpation undermined some of the keystones of modern Western art, such as notions of artistic “genius” and “creativity”…. Many within the arts viewed the computer as an emblem of rationalisation, a powerful instrument in the overall subordination of the individual to the emerging technocracy.”

Grant David Taylor, “When the Machine Made Art: The Troubled History of Computer Art 1963-1989

Starting from the 90s the focus of computer art shifted toward multimedia and interactivity, but some digital artists kept experimenting with mark-making, incorporating robotics, advanced generative techniques, and other cutting edge technologies.

Moth Generator by Everest Pipkin and Loren Schmidt (2015)
Moths drawn with lines!

SELF-PORTRAIT by Boštjan Čadež (2013)

Mechanical Parts by Matthias Dörfelt a robot that draws randomly generated “connectors” aka robot genitals.


Drawing machine or drawing tool? Stay tuned…

More generative art
Not related to drawing, check this overview of daily challenges: