Quick renderings of my reinterpretation of Noll's "Composition with Lines", realised with Processing.
A. Michael Noll, born in New Jersey in 1939, is an American engineer and an early pioneer of computer graphics, digital art and tactile communication.
With a solid education in electric engineering, Noll worked in different fields such as basic research, science policy and telecommunication, and has been responsible for the computer security at the White House under Richard Nixon's presidency. He is actually Professor at the University of Southern California.
During the 15 years spent at the Bell Labs, the scientific company who, among other patents, invented the transistor, Noll studied the relationship between humans and machines, tactile communication, speech signal processing and formalized the use of algorithms in the creation of visual art.
His first example of computer art work dates back to 1962, when he connected a Stromberg Carlson plotter to an IBM 7094 computer. In the same years but in an other continent, the German pioneers Frieder Nake and Georg Ness were exploring the artistic possibilities of such media, with whom he later presented their computer art through the States.
In 1965, at the famous exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity, held at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London curated by Jasia Reichardt, he presented his work "Computer Composition with Lines", subsequently analysed in an article.
This work was a mechanical reproduction of Piet Mondrian's "Composition with Lines", dated 1917. The work showed of pattern of black horizontal and vertical bars of different length, placed randomly inside of a circular form. Noll connected his IBM computer to a plotter, and translated the original work's pattern into an algorithm. The result was
a computer graphic not surprisingly very similar to the original one.
Noll exposed both works together, and subsequently asked
to a pool of 100 people to identify the original one. Through questionnaires, participants were also asked to
give a preference on pure aesthetic matter.
Although not reliable on the scientific level (small pool
of participants, mostly males, under 30 and employed at Bell Labs) the survey opened up at least two interesting topics. Only 29% identified Mondrian's original artwork: the vast majority of the interviewed therefore believed that
a machine generated graphic was made by a human.
Secondly, 59% preferred the computer generated artwork on
a pure aesthetic level. As Noll himself notices, this result may have been driven by the fact that abstract-art lovers, seeing beauty in randomness, chose easily the most random
of the two. On the other hand, this tendence revealed an evident aspect: the majority of the participants did not have any prejudices against computers a new artistic media.
What the two artworks unquestionably share is the fact that both patterns were preconceived by a human mind: the machine follows indeed an algorithm whose randomness is purely mathematic and deterministic. The computers, sums up Noll, functioned only as a medium performing its operations under the complete control of the computer program written by the programmer-artist.