Randomness, Chance, & Art

Randomness, Chance, & Art

Ethan Ham (The City College of New York, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-352-4.ch005
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Randomness is a slippery term that conveys different meanings in different disciplines. In mathematics, an individual number is random when there is an equal chance for it to be any number from a set of possible values. In computer science the term becomes more relative and numbers have varying degrees of pseudo-randomness. Information theory equates randomness with unpredictability and, at odds with other definitions, concludes that a higher level of randomness indicates a greater concentration of information; a message’s probable denseness of information is highest when the message is partially surprising and partially expected.There is no fixed definition for what randomness means in art, but analogies can be drawn to how the term is used in other fields. For example, information theory’s definition might suggest that artworks have the greatest impact when using a mixture of pattern and unpredictability.
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Random is often used colloquially to indicate arbitrariness or things unrelated: random acts of violence, random thoughts, random encounters. A number of fields such as computer science, statistics, and informational theory have more rigorous definitions of randomness. But each of these fields uses the term in a way that is slightly at odds with the others.

As a starting point, let’s establish what randomness means to a mathematician and, using that, build a working definition for what randomness might mean to an artist. In mathematics, an individual number is random when there is an equal chance for it to be any number from a set of possible values. When describing a sequence of numbers as random, we mean each number is statistically independent of the others; that the numbers in the series have no effect or relation to the others (Haahr, 2008). A random number or sequence is characterized as containing no meaningful information; if a number conveys some data (such as the result of a formula, a person’s phone number, or the number of times the letter ‘q’ appears in this chapter2), then it is not random.

This trait of non-significance can be borrowed and used as a key characteristic of randomness in art. If an element in an artwork contains some meaningful information about the world around us, then the element isn’t truly random. Consider this recipe by Tristan Tzara (one of Dada’s founders) for writing poetry:

To Make A Dadist Poem

Take a newspaper.

Take some scissors.

Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.

Cut out the article.

Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.

Shake gently.

Next take out each cutting one after the other.

Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.

The poem will resemble you.

And there you are--an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd. (Brotchie, 1991, p. 36)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Pseudorandom Random Number: A number that was generated using an algorithmic process called a pseudorandom number generator (PRNG). Because the numbers are created deterministically they have the appearance of randomness, but are not truly random.

Hardware Random Number Generator: A method for generating random numbers using a physical process, such as the nuclear decay of radioactive material. The generated numbers are often referred to as “true random” numbers in contrast with pseudorandom numbers generated by a pseudorandom number generator.

Chaotic: behaviors where minor changes in initial conditions can result in widely divergent results. Chaotic systems often appear random even though they are completely deterministic.

Chance: In this chapter “chance” refers to unpredictable, but deterministic, events.

Generative Art: Art that is created according to an algorithm. Generative art is typically intended to give the appearance of machine creativity.

Deterministic: A situation where events are completely predictable based upon cause and effect.

Algorithm: A set of well-defined instructions for completing a task.

Random: used in this chapter to specifically refer to unpredictable events that are completely self-contained and communicate no information (in contrast to “chance”).

Quantum: Used in this chapter to refer to subatomic processes.

Stochastic: having unpredictable characteristics. Used in this chapter to refer to both random and chance events.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Gabriele Meiselwitz
James Braman, Giovanni Vincenti, Goran Trajkovski
James Braman, Giovanni Vincenti, Goran Trajkovski
Chapter 1
Adérito Fernandes Marcos, Pedro Branco, João Álvaro Carvalho
Art objects might be described as symbolic objects that aim at stimulating emotions. They reach us through our senses (visual, auditory, tactile, or... Sample PDF
The Computer Medium in Digital Art's Creative Process
Chapter 2
Salah Uddin Ahmed, Letizia Jaccheri, Guttorm Sindre, Anna Trifonova
The interaction between art and technology, especially computing technology, is an increasing trend in the recent years. The context of this... Sample PDF
Conceptual Framework for the Intersection of Software and Art
Chapter 3
Joseph William Pruitt
The purpose of this chapter is to define the roles of engineering and design within the product development cycle looking at both the scientific and... Sample PDF
The Design of Engineering
Chapter 4
Jim Bizzocchi, Belgacem Ben Youssef
The chapter describes the synergistic integration of distinct research and creation agendas, each firmly grounded in its own set of practices and... Sample PDF
Ambient Video, Slow-Motion, and Convergent Domains of Practice
Chapter 5
Ethan Ham
Randomness is a slippery term that conveys different meanings in different disciplines. In mathematics, an individual number is random when there is... Sample PDF
Randomness, Chance, & Art
Chapter 6
Holography: Re-Defined  (pages 103-112)
Martin Richardson, Paul Scattergood
When writing this chapter it became apparent that we were not only exponents of digital holography, but also the critics. This is a problem when it... Sample PDF
Holography: Re-Defined
Chapter 7
Lorenzo Picinali
What is the real potential of computer science when applied to music? It is possible to synthesize a “real” guitar using physical modelling... Sample PDF
3D Sound Simulation over Headphones
Chapter 8
Raphael DiLuzio
This is a guide for working with a visual art form using a digital time-based medium. This chapter will provide an overview of the necessary... Sample PDF
Broken Cinema: The Eye and Hand in a Time-Based Art
Chapter 9
Ambivalent Interplay  (pages 146-161)
Heejoo Kim
The human vision, the most ubiquitous receptor of the human senses, has been the prevailing sensory organ for a noticeable manifestation of visual... Sample PDF
Ambivalent Interplay
Chapter 10
Yueh Hsiu Giffen Cheng
The development of net art originates from the rising of net media generally. During the past two decades, Net art has overthrown the standards of... Sample PDF
The Aesthetics of Net dot Art
Chapter 11
Nicola Quinn, Annette Aboulafia
People have used tools for artistic expression for millennia. Relatively recent is the use of digital technology to afford the creation of art.... Sample PDF
A Graphics Tablet as a Fine Art Tool
Chapter 12
Greg J. Smith
This text seeks to contextualize the history of and discourse surrounding information visualization. It positions visualization in relation to... Sample PDF
Information Visualization and Interface Culture
Chapter 13
Benjamin David Robert Bogart
“Memory Association Machine” (also known as “Self-Other Organizing Structure #1”) is the first prototype in a series of site-specific responsive... Sample PDF
Memory Association Machine
Chapter 14
Stefano De Luca, Eugenia Benelli, Francesco Altarocca, Dario Dussoni
Designing good and sound architectural projects is a hard job. Generally these kinds of projects involve many stakeholders, everyone with his/her... Sample PDF
EVO-PARK: Designing Better Architecture Projects Using Participated and Interactive Genetic Algorithms
Chapter 15
Sergiy Rakov, Viktor Gorokh, Kirill Osenkov
The chapter discusses the possibilities modern IT opens for Mathematics and its applications to real life, in particular to Art – by an example of... Sample PDF
Mathematics, Computer Mathematical Systems, Creativity, Art
Chapter 16
Jim Barta, Ron Eglash
Students who may typically view mathematics as a sterile and disjointed subject are learning new skills and concepts using a suite of virtual design... Sample PDF
Teaching Artful Expressions of Mathematical Beauty: Virtually Creating Native American Beadwork and Rug Weaving
Chapter 17
Mia Kalish
One visualization in Diné philosophy is four small dots arranged in a circular sequence at 90°, 0°, 270°, and 180°. Each position is associated with... Sample PDF
Visual Analytics and Conceptual Blending Theory
Chapter 18
Lindsay Grace
Enculturation is the act of passing cultural ideologies from one person to the other. It is what breeds innovation instead of new creation. It is... Sample PDF
The Challenge of Enculturation on Art
Chapter 19
Lindsay Grace
Software is philosophical. Software is designed by people who have been influenced by a specific understanding of the way objects, people and... Sample PDF
The Philosophies of Software
Chapter 20
Technological Social-ism  (pages 343-374)
Judson Wright
Culture is a byproduct of our brains. Moreover, we’ll look at ways culture also employs ritual (from shamanistic practices to grocery shopping) to... Sample PDF
Technological Social-ism
Chapter 21
Stephen A. Schrum
As creative people inhabit virtual worlds, they bring their ideas for art and performance with them into these brave new worlds. While at first... Sample PDF
Theatre in Second Life® Holds the VR Mirror up to Nature
Chapter 22
Machinima in Second Life  (pages 396-416)
Stephany Filimon
This chapter provides a brief history of machinima, films created by computer users within virtual worlds, and focuses on machinima produced within... Sample PDF
Machinima in Second Life
Chapter 23
Andrew Jinman
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are becoming an increasingly popular recreational activity for social engagement.... Sample PDF
Player Motivation and Understanding Game Dynamics
About the Contributors