Back a few years ago on Orbit Trap, I wrote a post entitled, Fractals are the Mogao Caves of our time. In it I described a sort of culturally universal art form called the “Divine Diagram”. The concept first occurred to me when viewing photographs online of the Buddhist murals on the walls of the Mogao Caves in Northwestern China. These sorts of religious and heraldic, “divine diagrams” exhibited the following visual characteristics which one also often finds in algorithmic imagery, particularly the fractal kind.
- Symmetry (left/right mirror image)
- Hierarchical structure (the details support the “macro-tails”)
- Geometric (circles, squares, parabolas, shapes that are formulaic)
- Abstracted/Symbolic (simplified and stylized but retaining a resemblance to real things, mainly natural: hills, sky, clouds, flowers,)
Just recently I stumbled upon some photographs online of murals on the walls of the Gran Salon in the Museum of Archeology in Valetta, on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. My reaction was: “I want a copy of the program that made those!”
I noticed instantly a rare artistic beauty to these murals, but this time my mind instinctively assumed an algorithmic source rather than a human one. When reflecting on the absurdity of thinking that 200 year old murals might have been made on a computer, something occurred to me: “Is there such a thing as a distinctively algorithmic style?” Think of it: Artists imitating computer programs rather than computer programs imitating artists?
Well, the murals of the Gran Salon came first, chronologically, so the artists who created them obviously weren’t imitating fractal or any other form of algorithmic graphics. Or were they? Could there be a form of algorithmic graphics that came before computers that they might have been, if not imitating, at least influenced by?
If you take a closer look at my bulleted list above (as I did when I reposted it) you’ll see the obvious “algorithmic” connection. It’s as freaky as the concept of Ancient Astronauts and as commonplace as flowers. Yes, there is a distinctive algorithmic style and it comes in the form of natural algorithms. Like flowers!
If you know anything about the history of the development of fractal geometry, which is they key algorithm that fractal programs utilize, you’ll know that they were discovered by Dr. Benoit Mandelbrot in his attempt to explain the geometry of natural shapes like clouds, rivers, trees, coastlines and other completely natural and extremely ancient and ubiquitous things; the commonplace, not the freaky.
It’s my theory that the religious/heraldic imagery of Divine Diagrams as well as the mural of the Gran Salon are imitations, possibly unconscious and unintentional ones, of natural geometric structures like flowers and just the abstract forms from geometry itself. These shapes and structures are all the product of algorithms, natural ones, in the form of DNA, in the case of flowers and other biological forms; and just simple geometry in the case of symmetry and patterns. There is then, something we can call “The Algorithmic Style”.
What is significant about the murals of the Gran Salon and which doesn’t exist in any of the other Divine Diagrams that I’ve seen from around the world is the refinement and distinguishing of this unique algorithmic style. The Gran Salon images are algorithmica for the sake of algorithmica! They have no religious, ceremonial or heraldic design function. They have only one intended function in my opinion and that is to be art: images of beauty, enjoyment, mental power and wonder. Or call it decoration!
There is a point at which decoration transcends that common label and category and ascends into the realm of the sublime. The murals of the Gran Salon is one of those instances.
Compare the “algorithmic style” of those 400 year old hand-painted artworks, above, with these much younger computer made ones:
I think I might explore this idea of an “Algorithmic Style” some more in the future. I think it ties a lot of things together and explains why many of the connections I’ve made between various hand-made artworks and computer algorithm made ones have appeared obscure and confusing to many (most) of my readers over the years. It’s a question of artistic style and that’s a somewhat subjective and subtle thing to identify and define, much less compare and contrast.