Dom Christie

Early Generative Art by A. Michael Noll

Piet Mondrian’s “Composition with Lines” (1917) is one of my favourite artworks, and in searching for a print online, I came across the art of Professor A. Michael Noll.

Noll pioneered generative digital art in the 1960s, and in one of his experiments he digitally recreated “Composition with Lines”. Participants were asked whether they could determine the computer-generated version from the original, and which version they preferred. Only 28% were able to correctly identify the computer generated version, and 59% actually preferred it.

Noll's Computer Composition with Lines next to Mondrian's Composition with Lines
Left: © A. Michael Noll 1965. Right: © Rijkmuseum Kröller-Müller

This led me to more of Noll’s work, and I was drawn to his early experiments drawing patterns programmed with Fortran. I particularly like this note:

"Pattern Seven" was supposed to have been a series of randomly-placed prolate cycloids but apparently something went amiss.

Patterns by 7090
A series of horizontal and vertical lines make an off-centre grid. Sinusoidal-squiggles are sprinkled throughout
Pattern Seven © A. Michael Noll 1962

In his paper, Noll outlines the algorithm used to create Pattern Two (below), and I thought it’d be fun to replicate it on the web.

Pattern Two © A. Michael Noll 1962

… and here’s my replica:

Pattern Two replica captured from HTML canvas. Source

Thankfully I didn’t have to set up and CRT or a 35mm film camera (although perhaps that would’ve been fun?!) but there was a bit of wrangling to get it looking right. Perhaps I could run an experiment to see which people prefer?