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Fractal Mondrian

Posted by Josh Rothman  February 9, 2011 08:13 AM

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If you love Mondrian's abstract paintings, but find yourself disappointed by the relatively small number of rectangles available for your perusal in each one, then the "algorithmic artist" Samuel Monnier has your answer: an algorithm which generates infinite, fracal, Mondrian-esque paintings.

Monnier - who by day is a theoretical physicist in Switzerland - explains that he "does not create a work directly, but rather devises an algorithm which will yield a work. My algorithms are executed on a computer, which performs computations and logical operations to produce a digital image." The images, therefore, are "purely abstract" - made without human intervention. The result, in this case, looks like a Mondrian-themed cityscape.

Mondrian's and Monnier's methods may make similar images, but, in a deeper sense their artworks are very different. The idea of algorithmic abstraction is quite an interesting one: the point of abstraction, after all, is that there's an artist who overcomes the usual attachment to objects, usually with the goal of expressing some deeply felt emotion. Mondrian's abstraction was, as he saw it, the outcome of a quite-arduous effort to get to the bottom of aesthetic experience. "The emotion of beauty is always obscured by the appearance of the object," Mondrian explained; "Therefore the object must be eliminated from the picture."

In his book, Natural Reality and Abstract Reality (a sort of explanation of his art, written in the form of a trialogue between painters), he wrote that his paintings expressed a "duality in man": it was "the product of a cultivated externality and of an inwardness deepened and more conscious." Its goal was to be elemental, primordial, fundamental, and pure - just line, color, balance, and relationship, without any obfuscating personality.

Monnier's algorithms, of course, don't have personality, and so don't need to work to uncover the abstract beauty hiding in the real. They've never known the real world - they're just algorithms. Maybe it's a 21st-century kind of abstraction, rather than a Modernist one - the abstraction of The Matrix, rather than the artist's studio. [Via Kottke.]

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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