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Postmodern Modernist Generator

In Art, Commentary, News on September 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm



Postmodern Modernist Generator

by Don Relyea


The Postmodern Modernist Generator [PMG] is a creative programming tool I originally created in 2006. It explores automating an artistic design process in a lighthearted manner. The art generator was designed to systematically break down and simplify the design process for automation, with each resulting piece being uniquely different.


Although automating an artistic process through computer programming is actually pretty easy, it is, however, nearly an impossible task to replicate the human factor.  As artists are typically inspired by an array of indeterminate things–thinking organically and acting out of intuition, more than out of set parameters or processes.  Differences in how artists perceive their subject matter and the choices they make, while rendering their works, create endless controlled variations in output. Hence the best one can hope to do with an computer emulated artist process, is going to be an approximation of a set of potential artist creative paths that lead to a graphic result.


As I add logic to the decision algorithms, add chaos to the system and increase the set of systemic processes available to the emulated artist, the possible set of paths and subsequent results essentially reach infinite variations.  The PMG is not meant to replace the human touch, and by no means consistently generates better looking designs than a human can.  However it does generate good output fairly often; much faster than a real human artist can on their own.

For the purposes of this project I have simplified the process to a set style of abstract modernist forms and designs, for now, focusing on automating color choices, subject matter, layout, image manipulation and the abstraction process in the digital environment ,using mostly processes that a digital artist would most likely employ.


While the program generates abstract modernist looking output, the overall concept of creating an automated artist process is somewhat of a postmodern concept, hence the title “Postmodern Modernist Generator”.


PMG contains a limited artificial intelligence, which automates the color choices, layout, image manipulation, as well as the balance of abstraction vs. detail and titling.  It’s a process that takes about a second to complete.


Color choices are automated by arbitrarily referencing a color lookup table for color relationships that work. The color relationships are derived from sampling the most prominent colors, from a variety of sources. Historically significant artists works are sampled, like Calder, De Kooning and Matisse, with a good many samplings derived from Bauhaus Master and noted color theorist, Josef Albers.  Nature is also a good source for color relationships that work, and samples are taken from random images on the web.


Here’s the technical rundown.


The PMG algorithms generates malleable color schemes much the same way Adobe Kuler works;  plotting relationships on an internal color wheel.  This is applied to a rotational offset, which extracts a new set of rgb values with the same relationships. In this way color options are endless, but generally work well together.

After a color scheme has been chosen, the applet creates shaders from chosen colors. It then creates a 3d world of primitives and assigns them the shaders. This creates an arbitrary volumetric space to be abstracted and expands the color depth of the source image.


A 2d image is then extracted and run through a variety of systemic and procedural process for abstraction. Virtual layers are created, assigned a stacking order, and various levels of opacity are applied.  Then all layers are merged.


Lastly when the graphic processes are complete, the program assigns the work a title by combining a noun, an adjective and a random number attempting in futility to assign meaning to the work. While this is a trivial task to program, it is an important final step in the process of creating a modernist work.  Since in my view, modernism seeks to make sense out of the senseless; imposing meaning through art where otherwise there is none.


When AD MAG inquired about PMG, I found it an odd, serendipitous timing, because I had recently received several emails about the work from internet viewers asking a variety of questions; mostly around how it works and where the images are coming from. Some people were in disbelief that the images are generated on demand. The questions and interest in the project reminded me of what I had always wanted to do with the program; to make it completely autonomous.


Now, I’m setting the PMG free.


This project has had several incarnations over its life as an executable, a shockwave application, a Google gadget and a screensaver, and until being asked to write this essay, PMG was an application controlled by a user. The user was the decider. But now that is not the case. I have set it free from users. I have given the program the capacity to run autonomously and and through some nice advances in social networking integration, PMG can post its own output via email to its own blog, Facebook Tumblr , Twitter et all.

Adding self promotion to the process of creating a work makes sense. Artists are perpetual promoters. In order to make an autonomous artist simulation, it must be able to promote itself and trumpet its creations. .


The ability to connect a generative artwork to an array of social networks, give PMG a profile, allowing it to post on its own while I sleep, work, play with the kids or do whatever opens up a new world of possibilities and questions.



Don Relyea is an artist, programmer, sound designer and inventor specializing in print making and information systems. Relyea experience extends through the video and interactive CD production, as well as multi-media content for traditional and digital.  He is particularly focused in the area of computational art; writing his own custom art software in C++ and Open GL. And he often uses his creative skills to weave cultural, social and political dimensions into his work.  Nature and mathematical forms are also common subjects.  Relyea’s artwork has been in exhibited internationally. In 2008, his politically charged “hair particle drawing” portrait of George Bush was simultaneously exhibited in Los Angeles and New York. Recently, Relyea’s video art series Generative Flowers has been installed outdoors in Downtown Dallas, in the Digital Grafitti Festival at Alys beach Florida, the W hotel in Seoul Korea and the International Free Exchange Zone in Incheon Korea.  Relyea is also an avid inventor with many patents pending. Relyea lives and works in Dallas Texas USA with his wife and three kids.

  1. I’ve tried an early version of Relyea’s art generator. What I found interesting was that I could adapt to the files on my own computer to force a different perspective. Sometimes one gets stuck as a writer or as a visual artist. One still needs to impose the artist’s vision; but Relyea’s art generator provided a good quick kick in the mind: Now, how about this!

    Setting it free from the user is interesting, but somehow I wonder about the unknown pixel getting twittered. Such is the fate of modern art.

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