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About algorithmic worldsIntroduction
The piling operator
While it may sound frightening, the word "algorithm" designates a very familiar notion. Perhaps the most intuitive instance of an algorithm is a cooking recipe. A recipe is a set of instructions that a cook applies to ingredients to obtain a dish. More abstractly, an algorithm is a set of instructions that an agent applies to a set of data. Computers and their logical circuits are able to execute algorithms, the data being sequences of binary digits on which the computer applies arithmetic or logical operations. Unlike a cooking recipe, which may be ambiguous, non-understandable or unrealizable, an algorithm to be executed by a computer must leave no room for doubt. Each instruction should be executable, and after each action, the algorithm has to provide a new instruction.
Algorithmic art (called sometimes "algorism") is therefore the art produced with algorithms. Note that an algorithm does not necessarily require a computer, so the latter is not required to produce algorithmic art. However, because of its ability to execute complex and tedious algorithms quickly, the computer is practically a priviledged tool. We will be interested here in algorithms which are executed by a computer, and whose output is a digital image. (We will call them "pictorial algorithms".) It is by no mean the unique way of producing algorithmic art, even if it is probably the most widely used.
At this point, the reader could object that there is nothing creative in the blind execution of a cooking recipe or of an algorithm, so this activity cannot be considered as artistic. He/She would be perfectly right: the art does not lie in the execution of the algorithm (this is the task assigned to the computer), but in the creation of the two elements necessary to its functionning: the algorithm itself and the data that it will process. In our culinary analogy, the art consists in creating the recipe and choosing the ingredients. (We always assume that the cook totally lacks initiative.)
For some simple algorithms, the initial data is very limited, or even nonexistant, and the main artistic work lies in the creation of the algorithm. Artwork produced with this type of algorithm often displays a minimalist aspect, its appeal coming from the mathematical or geometrical idea that it realizes.
Other algorithms may be much more complex. In particular, the extreme
flexibility of the fractal drawing program Ultra Fractal (used to
create the works on this website) allows for algorithms admitting a
large number of tunable parameters, the choice of which modifies the
output image dramatically. With such algorithms, a sensible and
artistic choice of these parameters is necessary. Random parameters
usually produce only monochromatic images. In view of large
number of algorithms publicly available and of the endless
possibilities provided by the tuning of their parameters and combining them, most artists using Ultra Fractal do not write their own algorithms.