This is a kind of generator for animations that stem from some of my thinking on ornamentation. Play with the options to get different outcomes, and click ‘render to GIF’ to render to GIF. Warning: GIF rendering can take some time, so start with shorter ones. Feel free to put anything you like up on Tumblr!
I code pictures
One of the tensions that comes from being involved in development but also having an interest in aesthetics is that there’s a tendency to bounce back and forth between the two. The last couple months have gotten me thinking a little more about what the point of skill in programming is – James Bridle has a good talk about how he studied Computer Science to be able to think more effectively about books. So what did I study for? One of the major reasons was pictures.
I find it very satisfying to produce an image that I like. To get from the initial concept to being able to creating a final image, though, can be a long and arduous process – particularly if that image is a slight tweak of an earlier experiment. There’s definitely something to be learned from doing something the hard way once or twice, but once you’ve learned those things it should get easier! It scares me somewhat to think that Escher’s geometric studies were as time-consuming and difficult to draw the hundredth time as they were the first.
A lot of developments do follow this pattern of escalating efficiency – anything we can automate becomes increasingly fast to do once we have invested in the process. It has become so ingrained in modern society that we have begun rejecting things that can’t benefit from the efficiencies of that process. That sense of impatience has swallowed up entire fields of artisanship, from typesetting to weaving to carpentry.
That’s why I was so thrilled to see Wim Delvoye’s concrete mixers. He’s put that painstaking detail back into an every-day object, in a manner that could have been commonplace in a time before automation. I feel like it highlights the absence of that degree of attention to many of our most treasured objects. Many of the objects that we’re told to love are built not too look the way we want them to be built, but in a way that makes it easier to build them. But how can we make things that we like with the efficiencies that we have come to expect?
I think we can develop tools that have an understanding of the medium, so that we can focus our human expertise on higher levels of abstraction. We have tools that have a near-perfect understanding of the technical requirements for, say, printing or injection molding. The next step is to develop systems with an appreciation of symmetry, color and balance. Instagram might already be one of these new programs, although the range of options available is probably too coarse to qualify.
Autobaroque is the result of reflecting on what kind of aesthetic questions these new programs might serve to answer. It’s an attempt at an algorithmic response to the spectacular work on ornamentation by figures like John Leighton in the 1860s. Flip through some pages of his book and you’ll see that there is a world of visual complexity that we have all but abandoned. If autobaroque can help reclaim even a little of that knowledge it will be a great success!
On a related note, I’ve fallen prey to the seductive immediacy of Tumblr where I’ve already posted several animations that come out of this system. Just as in the class of tools I’m talking about here, the immediacy of people’s responses to one image or another helps me to understand what people like remarkably quickly.