Generative ? Algorithmic ?

Posted by Samuel Monnier | Tue Aug 4th 2009 12:32 a.m.


I would like to have some feedback about about terminology. What is meant exactly by "generative art" ?

Until now, I thought the term "generative art" was used for artworks evolving in time, or at least built through some kind of recursive process, maybe using input from the spectator. On the other hand, algorithmic art is simply art created by algorithms, so would include generative art.

Now the wikipedia entries are pretty confuse, and present algorithmic art as a subset of generative art...
Any thoughts about more precise definitions or references ?

And from my limited experience of the contemporary art world, "generative art" is quite common and understood, but apparently nobody heard about algorithmic art... is it true ? "generative" is such a fuzzy word.

Samuel Monnier
  • Sarah Paul | Wed Aug 5th 2009 1:02 p.m.
    huh...i would think that generative art was actually a subset of algorithmic art, and not the other way round (as wikipedia claims)
    i took generative to be associated with a closed, autonomous system that generates the work without external inputs.
    but algorithms are used as generators/responders/etc in a broader spectrum of works.

    that was my impression until reading your post.

    i could be TOTALLY misinformed.

    but so could wikipedia.

    i'm sure someone super smart will swoop in and clear this up for us.

    sarah paul
  • curt cloninger | Wed Aug 5th 2009 2:25 p.m.
    It seems like "generative" is coming at the art from the "output" angle (something "got generated," implicitly by a means other than the mere "hand" of the human artist); whereas "algorithmic" is coming at the art from the "input" angle (some algorithm was involved in an artistic process).

    I think you could have a generative system that wasn't algorithmic -- it could involve analog variables in "nature" that weren't based on a set algorithm. Some fluxus instruction pieces and experimental 20th century audio compositions are "generative," but I wouldn't call them "algorithmic." Burroughs'/Gysin's cut-ups are arguable generative without being algorithmic.

    Also, I think you could have an algorithmic piece that wasn't generative. You could simply use a static algorithm without any variable input as part of your artistic process, and it would produce consistent/predictable output that wasn't "generative." It would still be "algorithmic," because an algorithm is just an algorithm.

    Note, computers aren't needed to make either "kind' of art. Note, Cage's use of "aleatoric" might be more specific and useful (and speak of the devil: ).

    If you were drawing a venn diagram of the two "kinds" of art (generative and algorithmic), the circles would share a common area, but each circle would also have areas that weren't in common.

    Just my thoughts about what it seems like the terms (should) mean, not really related to how they have been used historically by artists/curators/critics. Some artists are very invested in the term "generative," so they can chime in and add their opinions if they are reading.

    Generally WIkipedia is not the best resource for the nuances of contemporary art (but a wonderful resource, as Jon Ippolito noted recently, for fan fiction minutiae and obscure underground rock bands).
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