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Generative Art Summit Berlin

“Worldwide, the first three exhibitions of algorithmic art took place in 1965, two of them in Stuttgart, Germany, the other one in New York. This latter one was announced in the New York Times under the title “World Premiere of Computer Art”. The Americans did not know (and would, quite likely, not have believed) that two months before the April ’65 show in New York, the first exhibition of “Geneative Art” had opened in February of that year in Stuttgart.

When we now, in summer 2024, will see an extraordinary event in Berlin, hosted by the “art meets science – Foundation Herbert W. Franke” it will be almost sixty years after those remarkable pioneering events. By the time, the shows were not taken seriously. However, what originated then as a few minor events to, perhaps, be ridiculed, developed into a state today that we can with good reason characterize as

“The majority of images today – in the arts, in journals, in advertising – is of algorithmic (or digital) origin.

What a cultural revolution, that we are looking back to! It has happened silently, and the public did not really take notice of it. It just happened, and now we take its results for granted. It started at Studien-Galerie of the University of Stuttgart, at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York, and at Galerie Wendelin Niedlich in Stuttgart.”

Deep Differences

„Artists have been using computer technology to push the boundaries of traditional art for a long time, leading to a new era of creativity where your programming skills can be as important as your artistic eye.” We find this statement (and similar ones) on the Internet. The “long time” mentioned here began in 1965, when the first three exhibitions of computer-generated drawings were staged.

But this statement is not even true. We must accept it as being true only, if we take the word “computer” to mean “digital computer”. Drawings generated by “analog computers” had already been shown in public before 1965. Herbert W. Franke was one of those pioneers. The pioneering character of their work was the replacement of the paintbrush and paint by an analog (and soon later digital) computer.

But, again, this is only part of the story. Our comparison is a bit naïve insofar as it takes as its starting point the material and the tools needed to bring into existence a drawing or painting. When we take the typical situation that is leading up to a painting or drawing, we have a human and a canvas or drawing paper in close relation to each other, which relation changes the state of the canvass or paper in quite dramatic ways.

Continuing the comparison into the world of computers, we have the human and his or her computer in a close relation which results in a program that gets executed and, if correct, outputs on the computer’s screen a (colored) image.

The traditional situation is characterized by immediate changes of the appearance of the canvass or paper. It is immediate. The entry of the computer into the creative scene pushes the human artist away from his o her materials. The artist’s activity is now a mediated one. Painting and drawing have become distanced activities.

We may express the new situation, the situation of “algorithmic art” as: “Think the image; don’t make it.” The making is now carried out by machine, within almost no time. Thinking, reflecting, and making of the work once were one and the same. Now, they are separate. The mental and manual parts of the action are now two, and the manual part is almost unnoticed. But as this is happening, the thinking part is not about this one painting only, visible here in front of the artist, gaining more and more the material kind of existence that the artist may have had in mind ahead of time.

Unless the artist gets angry and dissatisfied with the work, his activity leads to this one work that he or she declares to be finished.

In contrast, the artist in the world of algorithms, when finished with the programming effort, knows for sure, this now is a generator of piles of drawings that may be produced. But in the first moment, none of these is visible yet. The algorithmic artists, by thinking the image, does not see it in the first place.

Deep differences. We should become aware of this great revolution in culture.

Frieder Nake has spent decades attempting to connect and integrate algorithmics and aesthetics, the computable and the beautiful, the strict and the fluid.
He is a mathematician, computer scientist, artist and writer. He has first exhibited algorithmic art in 1965 and is still showing new works.

His Ph.D. was in probability theory. He has lived and taught in Stuttgart, Toronto, Vancouver, Oslo and Aarhus, but most of the time in Bremen.
He has first exhibited algorithmic art in 1965 and is still showing new works. From works on paper he has moved to interactive and to dynamic installations. He has taught computer science, art, digital media since 1968.

He has supervised close to 500 Bachelor and Master theses and about 50 doctoral theses.
He was married twice and has two children and two grandchildren.