Not Thousands of Connections, But Progress
A work in progress prototype for ”the shape of art”, a unique look at the relationship between different fine artists
Recently, I had a breakthrough in development for a concept I hatched during graduate school. Building off of the thinking of the late abstract painter, Wassily Kandinsky, I wanted to evolve his definition of “the shape of art”. A refresher of the context for this project and Kandinsky’s thinking can be found here. When he described the shape of art in the early twentieth century, he was going off of his experiences and instincts. Today, we have statistical, relational, and analytical information to rely on. He described a pyramid in words. In the twenty-first century, we can graph that out in three-dimensional space. While the means are quite different to describe the shape of art (and you will see below the results are quite different too), Kandinsky had a vibrant candor about it that still speaks to me. Today, I am excited to share a working prototype for you to try.
What is a prototype?
For me, a prototype is to software as a sketch is to an illustration. Here I am able to put ideas to code, which allow me to get a better perspective on the idea or project I am working with. It also allows me to share my perspective in a concrete way with others. In my working process, a prototype is an interactive sandbox. It is not a production ready piece of software. It does not have all the details. But like a sketch, it has core ideas that need to be tested, assessed, and ultimately refined. Sometimes the idea is not good. In which case, I am thankful I was able to realize it sooner rather than later. Other times, there are aspects that are interesting, but communicate different themes. This can be surprising and is one reason I became so interested in computer programming. Regardless of the outcome, I learn new things along the way. I use this to improve my practice. Lastly, this process is how I work on my artistic work, e.g: my rendition of the shape of art, but it is equally valid for my client work.
What can you do in this prototype?
In this prototype, you will be presented with a constellation of about 1,000 dots connected by lines that move. Each dot represents an artist and each line shows that two artists are artistically “related” as defined in the Artsy API documentation. You can navigate the space on your computer or phone by dragging your finger or mouse respectively across the screen. Two finger pinch or mouse scroll allow you to zoom in and out. Two finger swipe or right click and drag allow you to pan around the space. You can hover over any dot to see the corresponding artist’s name. Lastly, you can click on a dot to open up a Google search for that artist. It usually returns a nice set of cards that describe interesting work and details about an artist.
What am I looking at exactly?
The bloom of dots connected by lines does not look like a pyramid. It resembles cauliflower florets, a dandelion, something molecular, or astrological. Kandinsky’s description of the shape of art stood out to me. Not because it was a pyramid. But, because he described a system of behavior by artists. For Kandinsky, each artist borrowed from his or her predecessors and contemporaries. For me, I use the “relatedness” between artists to bring about a different kind of behavior. One that lends itself well to a physics simulation. Further, encoding behaviors into a system has the unique ability to unlock movement and dynamics. In my rendition of the shape of art, the dots continuously react to each other making them animate and come alive.
I am sharing my artistic process through the analysis and synthesis of a few different sources: Kandinsky’s ideas, artist databases, physics simulation. At first sight, these sources do not have much in common with each other. The aforementioned prototype is meant to test how these sources mesh with each other. In my opinion they do. While I take a different approach and make a different result than Kandinsky did describing the shape of art, I see a glimmer of the vibrant candor that Kandinsky brought to his writing in this prototype.
Certainly, it will take more time for me to figure out exactly how this becomes my own work of art. It will also take more time to be able to more a sizable and substantive amount of dots (or artists) into the scene. I am hoping for the order of magnitude of 100,000. But, I am excited to make progress and to share progress. Enough of what I think though, does any of this speak to you?