Generative Art

Generative art is not so much a type of fine digital art, but a method of making art. The work is created by a system, usually a computer, following some sort of rules. These rules could be in the form of a computer program or simply a list of instructions written on a piece of paper and, once these rules have been carried out, the resulting work is said to be a piece of generative art. It is important that there is some autonomy involved when the rules are followed.

There is often some type of random or semi-random element added to the rules, such as the throw of a dice or the generation of a random number, which adds an level of unpredictability to the work. The artist does not have total control over the work and often as surprised as anyone else by the resulting work. This also means that it can never be reproduced in exactly the same form.

An early example of generative art was produced by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who created a musical dice game in 1787. In this game, he wrote a minuet by choosing pre-written sections of music by the result of a roll of a dice.

Who is the artist?

An interesting question is exactly who is creating the work: is it the artist who establishes the rules, usually by writing a computer program, or the computer that follows them? It is, after all the computer which carries them out, adds the random element and then creates the work. It seems to be largely agreed that the computer is simply the tool that carries out the wishes of the programmer, much like a paintbrush carries out the wishes of the artist, even if the programmer is not entirely sure what they are wishing for.

Many generative art programs involve some form of interaction, such as touch screen elements or motion sensors. In this way, the viewer can interact with the program as it is running and so influence the resulting artwork. This can also give the viewer an experience that is different for each individual and can be tailored to their personal tastes, as well as including them as part of the work.


One well known sub-group of generative art is fractal art, where computers use mathematical techniques to create very beautiful geometric shapes called fractals. These are often produced using dedicated software for fractal generation and can involve a great deal of computer processing. The resulting images are striking in their complexity and have strangely organic-looking forms and can resemble landscapes, crystals or cloud formations. 3D fractals are even more complicated and resemble rocks and plant specimens.

Generative art can cover many different areas, and can include 2D visual art, animation, sounds and music. The development of artificial intelligence and increasingly complex computer programming tools are promising areas for the future of this art form.