This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a show at the Phillips gallery featuring the abstract works of Georgia O’Keeffe. I adore O’Keeffe for her art, particularly her use of lines and colors, but this exhibition focused on the relationship between the abstract and the representational. These particular paintings exist on the edge between abstract compositions and depictions of flowers, bones, or landscapes. O’Keeffe is known for rebelling against the characteristics of realism in art, and claiming that “There is nothing less real than realism.” Instead, it is the abstract that most closely is connected to how we think of the world and understand it in our minds. Abstraction is the process of distilling a representation into its purest, simplest meanings. Realism does not convey experience; it conveys instead a rendition, an imposition of noise where there should be clarity. Realism detracts from the artist’s interpretation of meaning from a subject by chaining the representation to the object. O’Keeffe manages to do this without essentializing: her paintings of a jack-in-the-pulpit are not a claim that the images represent the true essence of the flower, but that they suggest her own experience of the flower, distilled.
Because I’m interested in games, this post necessarily has to connect somehow, and that is in procedural abstraction and representation. Games and simulations are abstractions of the world. Instead of depicting images, they depict processes. There is plenty of writing about the inappropriateness of realism for simulations, but one thing that can be learned from O’Keeffe is the role of the artist in the abstraction itself. The practice of abstraction is cognitive, gradual, and immensely personal. While O’Keeffe’s role in her art has been to transform objects into representations which are abstracted, personal, and artistically evocative, it is the role of the designer to derive rules in simulations which create dynamics and aesthetics that form a good experience for the player.
There are several dimensions for exploration here: O’Keeffe made several series in which she abstracted an image more and more until it became something that is far removed from its original subject, but still recognizable. An interesting exercise would be to simulate a system was with many rules so that it is realistic, and then gradually remove them until the system became more abstracted, but still recognizable. What kind of effect would such a series of systems have for a player? How would the designer make the choices of what rules to remove while reducing and abstracting gradually? A second exercise is to consider O’Keeffe’s artistic evocation of sexuality in her paintings of flowers. What would it mean to design a simulation which was abstractly representative, but also evocative of something else?
Genetic Image needs to be able to do things like this. I just discovered Andy Gilmore today, and a lot of his abstract work is extremely applicable to the Genetic Image project. While it’s not really feasible to put a lot of organic shapes into the program, especially not with the pictures that are hand-held pen on paper, some of the more abstract shapes and the principles behind them could be induced algorithmically. It’s possible to get more process based stuff into a system like Painter, but that needs so much work.
I’ve been familiar with Cellular Automata for a while, and I generally tend to approve of them. Especially when they have some nice evocative qualities. We read and discussed Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science in one of my classes, which was a lot of fun. We really tore into it. My problem with the book is that while I appreciate and respect the ideas behind his work, the mathematician in me wants to wring the book until theorems come out, which of course they don’t, because there are no proofs.
I feel especially frustrated on that account because of the work I did with strange attractors. I found significant visual evidence that the parameter space for the attractors has fractal characteristics, but I was never able to prove it. Very sad.
Anyway, revisiting Wolfram led me to remember my use of cellular automata in GeneticImage, and thinking about how they could be used in Painter or other projects. I was quite pleased with the last applet posted regarding Painter, so due to this, I think I will post one with a cellular automata generator. This is primarily intended for artistic rather than any other purpose. Please fiddle with knobs and levers to your heart’s content!
So, I’ve been continuing to work on Painter, in spite of everything else that is urgently awaiting my attention. The project is coming along, especially the module for the custom function language that is working as a Netbeans plugin. Very cool.
Anyway, I am at the point of building an actual procedural painting program for Painter to interact with in building its work, and I have been looking around for source material to base the code on. Maybe this is just my gradual corruption as a budding humanities scholar, but I have suddenly been feeling this strange compulsion to base things that I do or create in the context of existing work, rather than creating it all by scratch. It’s very odd. Something clearly must be wrong with me.
I have spent a little while digging though the source for The GIMP. I still fondly appreciate C/C++ as my “native” programming language, but reading through it is reminding me why I migrated to Java. Unfortunately, there are very very few good Java painting and graphics applications out there. In fact I haven’t seen one yet. I want something on the level of GIMP or Photoshop, or, ideally, Corel Painter. The hunt continues.
I’ve uploaded two Povray images. They’re not really all that recent, but I started working on the corresponding project relatively recently. The project involves architecture built around povray macros, so the idea is to have the architecture itself be as generated as possible. I’ve also been working some with generated cipher text, presumably to adorn the generated structures, but right now the cipher is only based on random numbers and not any real text.
I am also planning on, at some point in the near future, revising the interface for site somewhat, so that the left bar is more clear as a navigation tool.
Also in the near future I should be using the research category as a way to cover research materials, and summarize the various readings that I must inflict upon myself. We’ll see how that goes…
It has been a while before I made any good rendered artwork with Povray, but I have a few neat new abstracts up in the rendered art section. This is not a lot, but these are low resolution versions of some much larger images that I have on my desktop. It’s good stuff.
Part of the reason for not posting new material is that I have not had much time to work on things, but also I have not had the energy to take on the sort of projects that I generally like to do. Perhaps I will start something new in the not too distant future, but who knows how that would pan out. In the meanwhile, I figured I would post some of what I’ve got while it’s fresh.