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Algorithmic art

For the technique of performing basic arithmetic, see Algorism.

Algorithmic art, also known as algorithm art, is art, mostly visual art, of which the design is generated by an algorithm. Algorithmic artists are sometimes called algorists.


File:Octopod by syntopia.jpg
"Octopod" by Mikael Hvidtfeldt Christensen. An example of algorithmic art produced with the software Structure Synth.

Algorithmic art, also known as computer-generated art, is a subset of generative art and is related to systems art. Fractal art is an example of algorithmic art.

For an image of reasonable size, even the simplest algorithms require too much calculation for manual execution to be practical, and they are thus executed on either a single computer or on a cluster of computers. The final output is typically displayed on a computer monitor, printed using a raster-type printer, or printed using a plotter. Variability can be introduced by using pseudo-random numbers. There isn't a consensus as to whether the product of an algorithm that operates on an existing image (or on any input other than pseudo-random numbers) can still be considered computer-generated art, as opposed to computer-assisted art.


Some of the earliest known examples of computer-generated algorithmic art were created by Georg Nees, Frieder Nake, A. Michael Noll, Manfred Mohr and Vera Molnar Vera Molnár in the early 1960s. These artworks were executed by a plotter controlled by a computer, and were therefore computer-generated art but not digital art. The act of creation lay in writing the program, which specified the sequence of actions to be performed by the plotter. Sonia Landy Sheridan established Generative Systems as a program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1970 in response to social change brought about in part by the computer-robot communications revolution.[1] Her early work with copier and telematic art focused on the differences between the human hand and the algorithm [2]

Aside from the ongoing work of Verostko and his fellow algorists, the next known examples are fractal artworks created in the mid to late 1980s. These are important here because they use a different means of execution. Whereas the earliest algorithmic art was "drawn" by a plotter, fractal art simply creates an image in computer memory; it is therefore digital art. The native form of a fractal artwork is an image stored on a computer –this is also true of very nearly all equation art and of most recent algorithmic art in general. However, in a stricter sense "fractal art" is not considered algorithmic art, because the algorithm is not devised by the artist.

The role of the algorithm

For a work of art to be considered algorithmic art, its creation must include a process based on an algorithm devised by the artist. Here, an algorithm is simply a detailed recipe for the design and possibly execution of an artwork, which may include computer code, functions, expressions, or other input which ultimately determines the form the art will take. This input may be mathematical, computational, or generative in nature. Inasmuch as algorithms tend to be deterministic, meaning that their repeated execution would always result in the production of identical artworks, some external factor is usually introduced. This can either be a random number generator of some sort, or an external body of data (which can range from recorded heartbeats to frames of a movie.) Some artists also work with organically based gestural input which is then modified by an algorithm.

By this definition, algorithmic art is not to be confused with graphical methods such as generating a fractal out of a fractal program; it is necessarily concerned with the human factor (one's own algorithm, and not one that is pre-set in a package). The artist must be concerned with the most appropriate expression for their idea, just as a painter would be most concerned with the best application of colors. By this definition, defaulting to something like a fractal generator (and using it for all or most of your creations) would in essence be letting the computer dictate the form of the final work, and not truly be a creative art. The artist's self-made algorithms are an integral part of the authorship, as well as being a medium through which their ideas are conveyed.


"Algorist" is a term used for digital artists who create algorithmic art.[3]

Algorists formally began correspondence and establishing their identity as artists following a panel titled "Art and Algorithms" at SIGGRAPH in 1995. The co-founders were Roman Verostko and Jean-Pierre Hébert. Hébert is credited with coining the term and its definition, which is in the form of his own algorithm:[citation needed]

if (creation && object of art && algorithm && one's own algorithm) {
     include * an algorist *
} elseif (!creation || !object of art || !algorithm || !one's own algorithm) {
     exclude * not an algorist *

See also

Specific types of algorithmic visual art


  1. ^ Sonia Landy Sheridan, "Generative Systems versus Copy Art: A Clarification of Terms and Ideas", in: Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring, 1983), pp. 103-108. doi:10.2307/1574794
  2. ^ Flanagan, Mary. "An Appreciation on the Impact of the work of Sonia Landy Sheridan." The Art of Sonia Landy Sheridan. Hanover, NH: Hood Museum of Art, 2009, pp. 37-42.
  3. ^ Verostko, Roman (1999) [1994]. "Algorithmic Art". 

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