Realism, Abstract and now: Metamorphic Art.

Metamorphic art is imagery that has the appearance of something real, or suggests something real, but is actually created by a process that is unrelated to the real imagery and only bears a resemblance to real things by accident.

The best examples of metamorphic art are fractals which often look like and are described as real things, usually plants or other organic structures, but the resemblance is only accidental. Most algorithmic art or generative art programs create metamorphic imagery because the underlying process is one that can only produce abstract or non-representational images.

It’s really just a matter of process. If the process of making “imagery” is not human (or photographic) it is extremely unlikley, if not impossible, for it to reproduce the human form or face or anything else that already exists. In fact, only human artists (or photography) can reproduce real things because that requires intention and very complex thought processes.

Computer programs or natural processes (landscape, rocks, but not biological processes) create new things; things that are unique. However; we often select the products of these processes (eg. fractals) that look like something real because, I think, we find realistic imagery to be more interesting and expressive.

Abstract is the category this sort of art would be placed in for the sole reason that it’s obviously not realism like a hand painted portrait or landscape would be. However the realistic “context” that the imagery is placed in makes abstract an awkward category.

The study of Geology defines three types of rocks: Igneous (original rock cooled from molten material); Sedimentary (rock made up from the erosion of other rocks); and a third, composite type which is produced by heat or pressure acting on the other two types and called — Metamorphic — simply meaning “changed”.

Similary I would suggest that there is a need for a third type of art classification in addition to realism and abstract. Computers have turned the production of non-human imagery from what was previously a narrow stream into what is now more like a river and trying to speak and think about this imagery as a type of abstract art or even as some sort of anomaly or curiousity and “non-art” limits the study and appreciation of it because that’s not what it is.

Metamorphic Art: “I don’t know what it is, but it looks like something.”

Image Notes
The second image was made in Capow2007 using the standard Cellular Automata option. The first image is just a negative (inverted) version of it. Both are 2-color images which makes for stark contrasts and small file sizes.

August 21, 2008

Grow Yer Own Mountains!

(Above) I India Inked the original image from the program. That had the effect of darkening the colors and applying the fine scratches (engraving pattern) to it. I always India Ink everything. It’s almost as natural as framing.

Thanks to my fellow Computer Artist and software enthusiast, Dan Riles, I discovered Capow.

(From the website:)

CAPOW (Cellular Automata for Electric Power simulation) is a research project of Rudy Rucker’s which was born under the CAMCOS program at San Jose State University. Since 1994 CAPOW has been exploring new kinds of continuous-valued cellular automata.

There’s more of that sort of thing on the website. It’s a fine example of how the graphical study of mathematics and other scientific subjects can have artistic applications that are completely outside the scope of the developer’s initial intentions for the software. I’m sure anyone, art-minded or science-minded, appreciates the interesting graphics, but I get the feeling the program wasn’t written exclusively for making artwork. That makes the program even cooler in my mind.

I’ve tried other cellular automata programs. Apart from the freaky name, there hasn’t been anything really exciting about them until I found this program. I guess because it’s not advertised as a computer art type program like fractals are, it never even showed up on my radar screen (I have one).

The program can be fun just to watch; especially when you can view it in split screen with the wave graph at the bottom of the screen “drawing” the graphics as they flow out of it. There’s a real mechanical feel to this program, which is something I like. Art machines should be dirty beasts of steel dripping hydraulic fluid (you knew that, right?).

It’s a Windows program but works just fine on Linux using the Wine emulator. I haven’t been able to get it to capture and copy an image to the clipboard, but taking a screen shot is almost just as easy, and that’s the technique I’ve been using.

What else? I don’t understand much of any of the techo-options. Just like fractals, you don’t need any math skills, all you need are a pair of eyes and a healthy amount of curiosity to make you wander through all the menu options in search of something that works well.

There’s something in there about viewing with 3-D glasses. This is pretty freaky piece of software.

August 20, 2008

Pieces of the Puzzle


In the old days the great artists were masters. In more recent times the greatness of an artist has measured by such qualities as: expressiveness; intelligence; satire; social commentary. Today, the great artists are scavengers; collectors not creators; thinkers not commentators; pointers of the way, not great ships under sail. Names in the phone book, not brass plates in the galleries. Pieces of the puzzle, not a puzzle of pieces.

Image Notes A Sterlingware fractal, India Inked.8bf and then filtered with Patch Work by Kipp McMichael which produced the fragmented look. The second one was also filtered with Mirror, Mirror, to give it the symmetrical look.

August 15, 2008

Rare Picasso Made by Me in 7 Seconds!

I just know Pablo would want to shake my hand and say how relieved he is that finally someone has arisen to carry on the rich tradition of fresh, progressive artwork that he started.

I’m not sure he would be able to relate to the simple digital techniques of blockwaving travel posters off the internet, but then I’m sure many of his predecessors (is there anyone great enough to be considered a predecessor of Picasso?) weren’t able to relate to his, sometimes, impulsive style (you might want to check that).

But I think Picasso was very flexible and innovation-friendly when it came to art and methods. Actually, I don’t know.

At the same time I “made” this thing too:

It’s a bit messy and I only saved it because I thought it shows how simply you can make interesting stuff with this blockwave filter from Showfoto.

August 13, 2008

Physician, Know thy Applantus!

(Image Above) A Sterlingware fractal India Ink.8bf-ed with the Queen color setting and the Xor pattern at 4x. (What better illustration to senseless utterances than a concert hall?)

I love senseless statements. Especially when they have that special air of antiquity or authority.

Is it a shallow thing? Marcel Duchamp wrote on one of his Dadaist “artworks”, “Why Sneeze Rose Selazny?”. I think he was engaging in this same sort of thing.

These senseless things are (ironically) a satire on the art of profound statements or quotations. What does it mean when I quote something meaningless? I think what it means is not much less than many of the rich proverbs and cliches people like to repeat.

It’s the gesture that’s important. We can fill in the blanks. Just like we do when someone quotes something in Latin and we have no idea what they’re saying but we can easily guess that it’s first of all something profound and secondly has no doubt also had an profound influence on Western Civilization.

This is that other kind of Latin. Much more fun to study, and not likely to ever become a dead language.

August 12, 2008

The Planet Motif

(Image Above) Raw image made in the fractal program, InkBlot Kaos

Perhaps the round, disk-like images have a special resonance in the human mind? I often go overboard making variations on this planet-like theme.

The central part is usually empty or sparsely populated with respect to graphical features and responds strongly to the India Ink patterns. This provides as marked contrast to the ring-like edge of the planet’s surface which often has much more detail and reacts in unpredictable ways to the various photoshop compatible filters.

The Graphical Variations



Give the filters an image with some graphical variety to it and it’s not hard to come up with something interesting. That’s the power of “Clickism” which leaves the heavy lifting to the computer’s graphical effects.

August 11, 2008

Someday this picture will be worth a hundred bucks!

For those of you who think art has to involve a lot of careful consideration, precision and care, I spent quite some time adjusting the two block wave parameters in Showfoto to come up with this one.

The default settings often work well, but naturally one wants to experiment, and that’s quite easy to do with digital effects. I usually make the blocks smaller but then I got bored with that and went in the opposite direction.

That didn’t work well until I readjusted the other slider. This result, chosen from a number of similar but less interesting ones, is the sort of raw style that I’m never quite sure of at the time but often become have more confidence in once I’ve thought about it more.

Some art is straightforward and easy to have an opinion about and some fluctuates between the two extremes of rich-masterwork and cheap-cartoon with every blink of the eye.

August 10, 2008

Insect Magnetism

Magnetism — as in attraction and repulsion.

Insects are intriguing; they’re like living machines and yet there’s something threatening and disturbing about them.

When insects are viewed inside a glass case we can relax and admire their alien architecture. But out in the wild; unrestrained and on an equal footing, they make us uneasy.

I think art is the same. We like the glass cases; the labels; the books that offer us safe answers. But out in the wild — where art comes from — we have a hard time seeing it for what it is because out there you have to think for yourself.

Image Notes
A Sterlingware fractal enlarged 2x and modified with the circular wave filter from Showfoto, a Linux photo program.

August 10, 2008

Sci-Fi Show


Sometimes Sterlingware makes very cool images that have a vintage sci-fi look to them. These images almost always come from the sine-trap rendering methods.

This is one of the things that makes fractals so interesting; they often produce huge panoramas of very detailed and stylized imagery. It can get boring at times since the wild scenery is actually very closely determined and constrained by the underlying mathematics and the overlying methods of visualizing those mathematically determined things.


The ability to modify the color is very important and often completely changes the “style” of the imagery by making the background the figure and vice versa. There’s enough variables involved to keep one interested and the results looking fresh, but after a while I always get tired of the “organic” imagery that fractal programs make and need a change to something more (and this is very ironic) geometric.

Sometimes fractals are too real and ordinary.

Image Notes:
Before and after images. On the left, the original image as rendered in Sterlingware. On the right, the image modified by Flaming Pear’s India Ink.8bf set on Queen using the Xor pattern at 4X.

August 8, 2008

Castle of Ancient Kingdoms

It’s just a blockwaved black and white engraving from an old book about Columbus. Or to be precise; it’s a detail of the blockwaved image.

The full image is just below here. The above is a detail from it. Feel free to explore like I did, although this sort of imagery may not appeal to everyone.

Click here to view the huge original (4540px x 5840px, 604k)

If you look at the original blockwaved image as a thumbnail, it just looks like a blurry image of the original engraving. I find this quite intriguing as it’s the tiny details that are interesting and in fact, that’s all the blockwave filter has actually changed.

You can see similar effects in something like ASCII art where a picture is made up of letters and is actually a text file and not an image file. The image looks perfectly normal from a distance, but up close it appears to be made of tiny insect characters, in other contexts commonly referred to as letters and numbers.

If I was writing an encyclopedia or just plain trying to promote myself and sound important and original, I would refer to it as a whole new genre call something like, “Micro-Art” (it’s too small to be two complete words, so I hyphenated it).

August 5, 2008