The Emergence and Growth of Evolutionary Art – 1980-1993





  • One of the most interesting-if frustrating-aspects of charting the history of computer art is trying to understand the intersections of specific technologies and artistic experimentation. It is rarely as clear-cut as a simple linear influence of one to the other, partly because artists are able to envision all kinds of possibilities that technology might enable them to realize in some kind of form, but as they do so, the
    technology is itself shaped, especially in terms of how it is perceived by others. Do artists find a way to give technologies an aesthetic outlet, or do some technologies possess-or facilitate-a characteristic aesthetic that finds its expression through specific artists? Certainly, in the history of computer art it would seem that particular aesthetics, technologies, and artists are closely intertwined in certain periods. This intertwining of art, technology, and ideas stolen from the natural world has never been so
    arguably merged as the period in the history of computer art from 1980 to 1993. We take as the defining start of this period the initial work of Mandelbrot on fractals that became known as the Mandelbrot set and led to his famous illustrated art-science book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. In 1993, this first highly creative period in evolutionary computer art came to an end with major publications by pioneers Karl Sims, Stephen Todd, and William Latham.


  • 1. Mandelbrot, Benoit, “Fractal Aspects of the Iteration of z –o>Lz(L-z) for Complex L and z,”
    Annals of the New York Academy ofScience, Vol. 357, 249-259 (1980).

    2. Mandelbrot, Benoit, The Fractal Geometry ofNature (New York: W.H. Freeman, 1982).

    3. Mandelbrot, Benoit, “Fractals and an Art for the Sake of Science,” Leonardo Supplemental
    Issue, Vol. 2, Computer Art in Context: SIGGRAPH ’89 Art Show Catalog, 21-24 (1989).

    4. Turing, Alan M., “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis,” Philosophical Transactions ofthe Royal
    Society B, Vol. 237, No. 641, 37-72 (1952).

    5. Gardner, Martin, “Mathematical Games: The Fantastic Combinations ofJohn Conway’s New Solitaire
    Game ‘Life’,” Scientific American, Vol. 223, 120-123 (1970).

    6. Dawkins, Richard, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton & Co., 1986) 55.

    7. Levy, Silvano, Desmond Morris: 50 Years ofSurrealism (London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1997).

    8. Dawkins, Richard, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton & Co., 1986) 8.

    9. Ibid., 329.

    IO. Norton, Alan, “Generation and Display of Geometric Fractals in 3-D,” Computer Graphics, Vol.
    16, No. 3 (1970).

    11. Lansdown,John, “The Possible Worlds of William Latham,” The Conquest ofForm: Computer Art by
    William Latham, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, 3 December 1988-15January 1989.

    12. Ibid.

    13. Todd, Stephen, and William Latham, Evolutionary Art and Computers (London: Academic Press,
    1992) 2.

    14. Ibid.

    15. Giger, H.R., Giger’s Alien (London: Big O Publishing, 1979).

    16. Thompson, D’Arcy Wentworth, On Growth and Form (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 1917).

    17. Greenfield, Gary R., “Simulated Aesthetics and Evolving Artworks: A Coevolutionary Approach,”
    Leonardo, Vol. 35, No. 3, 283-289 (2002).

    18. Whitelaw, Mitchell, “The Abstract Organism: Towards a Prehistory for A-Life Art,” Leonardo,
    Vol. 34, No. 4, 345-348 (2001).

    19. Ibid., 346.

    20. Ibid., 347.

    21. Todd, Stephen, and William Latham, Evolutionary Art and Computers (London: Academic Press,
    1992) I2.

    22. Whitelaw, Mitchell, “Tom Ray’s Hammer: Emergence and Excess in A-Life Art,” Leonardo, Vol. 31,
    No. 5, 377-381 (1998).

    23. McCorduck, Pamela, Meta-Art, Artificial Intelligence, and the Work ofHarold Cohen (New York:
    W.H. Freeman, 1991).

    24. Leyton, Michael, “A Process-Grammar for Shape,” Artificial Intelligence, Vol. 34, No. 2,
    213-247 (1988).

    25. Prusinkiewicz, Przemyslaw, and Lindenmayer, Aristid, The Algorithmic Beauty ofPlants (New
    York: Springer-Verlag, 1990).

    26. Whitelaw, Mitchell, Metacreation: Art and Artificial Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).

    27. Latham, William, et al., “Using DNA to Generate 3D Organic Art Forms,” Evo’o8 Proceedings ofthe
    2008 Conference on Applications ofEvolutionary Computing (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2008) 433-442.

    28. Latham, William, et al., “From DNA to 3D Organic Art Forms,” Proceedings SIGGRAPH ’07 ACM
    SIGGRAPH 2007 Sketches (New York: ACM, 2007), accessed at <