by Jan Aminoff, January 1991 (©1991 and 1997 by Jan Aminoff)
RART™ is a Trade Mark of A-SQUARE, Inc. Askim, Sweden
The Philosophy of Rart
Examples of Rart
Principles of Rart Programming
Note (May -97)
Rart™ (Random Art) is created when a user selects instances of appealing beauty from constantly changing images appearing on a computer screen, when the computer is running Rart image-generating programs. It is our thesis that Rart provides a new principle for the creation of art as well as a computer-age contribution to the perennial question, "What is art?"
The beauty of nature is often the result of the interaction of two
principles, randomness and order
. Think of the way clouds appear, white with shades of gray, on a blue
sky. There is order in the distinctness
of the clouds and in their overall general shape. At the same time
there is no way of predicting the precise shape
of an individual cloud nor its exact location on the sky. We experience
this interaction of randomness and order
as beauty, and we rather envy the lazy bum laying on the ground
watching the clouds move by.
In further illustration of the principles of randomness and order, think about a tree or a forest. There is an orderliness in which trunks grow into branches, how the leaves grow from the branches, how each leaf is identifiably oak or elm or maple or whatever. There is an overall order to a forest. Seen from a little distance or some height it appears as a solid mass with texture and color according to the type of trees. Yet there is randomness in the location of each tree, the type of tree (if it is a mixed tree forest), not to mention the location of each branch and each leaf. Each autumn we have in the eastern United States an exodus from the cities of people contemplating the beauty of the turning of the leaves. Due to a number of causes, each individual leaf will turn from green to yellow to sometimes brilliant shades of red, orange, brown or purple. It might even be possible to predict the future history of a leaf. However, to the visitor the overwhelming beauty stems from the unexpectedness of color shadings going into each other; that is, of the combination of randomness and order.
We know the laws of nature and we can accurately predict many things with great precision such as, for example, the course of an interplanetary probe. However, we can not deal with great quantities of data. Weather prediction is a good example of something we do not do very well. A recent mathematical development, the chaos theory, shows that some natural systems, weather being one of them, are beyond any realistic observational and computational capability for prediction. So to us the weather is a system that appears as a combination of randomness and order. Its visual manifestations such as clouds, or the satellite picture of a hurricane, or a multicolored sunset can be of great beauty. And fortunately there is nothing to prevent us from enjoying the beauty even if we neither understand its past nor are able to predict its future. And we can, as photographers, preserve the ephemeral beauty of a moment for future enjoyment by taking a picture. As artists, we do the same thing: capture scenes of beauty on canvas or paper.
The philosophy behind Rart stems from the observation that the computer is an excellent tool to combine randomness and order in programs that display constantly changing images on the computer screen. A Rart program under execution embodies a universe created for its visual possibilities. One can think of the screen as a two dimensional window to this visually interesting universe and the user of the Rart program as an observer with the possibility of recording especially appealing images. We call the user of a Rart program the Rart observer although, from some points of view, the user could just as well be called an artist.
We will now exemplify Rart by describing the rules of some Rart universes. Later, we shall enunciate the principles of Rart programming by drawing on these examples. Top
NOTE: The still pictures below are from the first Rart implementation for the Macintosh, actually pictures frozen from the first universes written in QuickBasic. They are timestamped November and December 1991, long before Java. The actual Java universes displayed are given values of the uParameters to recreate that black and white feeling.
We shall consider three examples of Rart universes, each with their own simple laws of behavior. The universes have been named after the main objects displayed on the screen.
(See a JAVA version of the Lines Universe)
The computer screen is a rectangle. Think now of a point that moves
in fixed length steps until it hits the
side of the rectangle when it bounces in a randomly chosen direction at
new fixed length steps. Consider another
point moving according to the same rules and connect the two points by
lines. If you keep a constant number of
lines on the screen, (accomplished by removing a line each time another
is added) you will see patterns of lines
on the screen. As user you can vary the number of lines and the maximum
step of the points, thereby changing the
In the Lines Universe the bouncing and overlap of the lines create unexpected and sometimes dramatic shapes that may appeal to the unconscious of the user. Top
(See a JAVA version of the Eggs Universe)
In the Eggs Universe, randomly placed ovals grow and diminish. When
they overlap, they cancel each other out
and you get patches of alternating light and dark. As user you can vary
the average size of the eggs as well as
their average number, thus creating a great variety of picture
The Eggs universe is interesting because forms that are themselves simple interact to create new and unexpected forms on the screen. Top
(See a JAVA version of the Flakes Universe)
In the Flakes Universe, objects grow according to some approximation
of the rules of hexagonal crystal growth.
They appear randomly on the screen according to a rule that minimizes
overlap. The intricate patterns result from
branching symmetrically in single, double or triple branches, and the
branches again branching always at 60 degree
angles. As user you may change parameters for average size and number
as well as a parameter relating to average
The Flakes Universe is inspired by real nature that seems to make every snow crystal different even though snow crystals conform to very simple rules for growth. Top
The program creator, (whom we call the rartist), provides
the details of a particular Rart universe.
S/he, sets the stage for the universe constrained by realities such as
the capabilities of the particular computer,
including its graphic possibilities and its computational ability.
There is no end to what could be programmed
including the actual simulation of weather. Realistically, however, the
universes will have little to do with the
There are certain overall principles that the Rart programmer has to incorporate in a Rart program, principles that make Rart programs unique and distinguish them from any other programs. These principles are protected by the Rart trademark and only programs that follow them may use the trademark. However, only the owner of the trademark can decide what is or is not a Rart program, the decision ultimately being based not only on whether a candidate program follows the principles but whether the universe it describes is visually interesting.
We can think of the Rart universe as populated by objects and this may be a useful way of speaking about it as long as it is not taken as a constraint. In the real universe clouds in the sky, waves on the sea and trees in the forest are all examples of objects. In a Rart universe the objects are anything that can be presented on the computer screen. In talking about the Rart objects it must be realized, however, that notions of distinctness may have little meaning just as it may be difficult to distinguish between two waves in the sea, i.e., to determine where one wave ends and the next one begins. Nevertheless, we have attempted to formulate the principles of Rart in terms of the objects that populate a Rart universe.
The Rart principles are:
1. Continuous Creation
2. Moving Averages
3. Instantaneous Freeze
Whatever the Rart universe presents on the computer screen must
change. If we define the universe as a collection
of objects, the changes must be such that the appearance,
disappearance, shapes and movement of objects is random
enough that the probability of a repeat configuration is infinitely
small. In addition, the appearance or enlargement
and disappearance or diminishment of objects must be balanced over
time. In terms of visual impact, the screen
must not be cluttered or overwhelmed by objects. We call this the
principle of Continuous Creation since the "birth"
or appearance and growth of an object can be seen as creation. Inherent
in all creation is the "death"
or disappearance that gives room for more creation.
The effect of Continuous Creation is that the universe can go on forever always providing new object configurations with little or no probability of repetition.
In a particular Rart universe, it may be appropriate to assign
parameters to properties of objects such as size,
shape, speed, color, etc. What parameters are appropriate depend on the
nature of the universe. If the universe
is populated by objects with some resemblance to waves on the sea it
would be appropriate to assign parameters
of height, speed of movement, nearness to cresting, etc. The principle
of Moving Averages states that these averages
in general should remain constant over time. So, in our Rart universe
with "waves", while each wave is
different and has different height and cresting properties, the average
of all remains constant.
However, these parameters also give character to the universe and it may be of interest to change its character by changing the parameters. Such changes are not only allowed but encouraged. For a particular universe, the user-observer of a Rart program must have the means to change at least some parameters.
The effect of the principle of moving averages is that the Rart observer may participate in the process of universe creation by moving the averages of a universe, thereby assuming more of the responsibility for the resulting art.
The visual manifestation of a Rart universe on a computer screen is
dynamic. Objects change and/or move, and
the observation of the constantly changing universe is in itself of
interest. However, one purpose of Rart is to
provide its user with permanent pictures, snap shots if you will, of a
Rart universe. The principle of Instantaneous
Freeze provides that the Rart program at any moment can be stopped, and
the status of the universe, as presented
on the screen, recorded for later review and possibly hard copy
printout. Following the principle of Continuous
Creation any picture thus created is unique and non reproducible. The
moment of freeze is the moment when the observer,
interacting with the Rart program, has created a work of art. This
moment is of interest and every copy is therefore
time stamped with the date, hour, and minute of creation.
The effect of the principle of Instantaneous Freeze is to provide the observer with the opportunity to say "Stay" to any moment in the life of a Rart universe. Top
Rart offers a new way to create art where the power of the computer
is combined with the discriminating eye
of an observer. The computer is used to simulate visually interesting
universes and the observer selects among
the infinitely varying images the one that s/he considers worthy. That
image is frozen in time and stamped with
the moment of creation when it also may be given a title by the
Is a work of Rart a work of art? The question is an interesting one since it concerns fundamental questions of creativity, originality and aesthetics. The Rart programmer, the rartist, by detailing the laws of a visually interesting universe has made a fundamental contribution to the work. On the other hand, the user has interfered with the universe by Moving Averages and is therefore a co-creator. Moreover, randomness and the principle of Continuous Creation ensures that each situation judged by the practitioner is unique and thus the resulting work unique. And is not the ability to produce a unique piece of art a defining criterion for an artist? As to beauty, that is in the eye of the beholder, or is it not?
But we leave these questions to the philosophers, and in the meantime, invite you and other readers to play with Rart as the fun computer toy it really is. Top
Note( May -97): Since the article was written, in 1991, we have introduced the term "rartist" to denote the programmer-creator of a RART™ universe and the term "observer" for the person who executes and looks at the universe on the computer screen. Other than changes to conform to the developing vocabulary, the article remains virtually unchanged. It is interesting that when Rart was conceived Java was not yet invented and the idea of Internet distribution still in the future.
The Rart programs originally were written in Microsoft QuickBASIC for the Macintosh. They were in black and white and the universes presented on the original Mac 8 inch screen as the examples indicate.
--- J.A. Top
Back to RART™ Home