Paint by number

So yesterday I spent some more time working on my Mondrian website. I love writing code that generates code - which is how I made the example I posted yesterday. Yesterday, as I moved closer to getting something I would actually deliver to a client I began to realize something about beauty that Mondrian's art illustrates powerfully.

Before I get to that point though, I have to confess that I have never taken an art appreciation class. My ability to understand, critique and enjoy fine art is mostly the result of one book: Mona Winks by Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw.

Mona Winks is a book that made the museums of Europe knock me over with their profundity. Like the Rick Steves travel books, Mona Winks helps you narrow your focus. It selects and helps you find the greatest hits of the greatest museums like the Louvre, the Prado, and the Vatican Museum. Once you have narrowed to the best of the best, the book explains what makes them so great. But perhaps most importantly the book links the pieces together, explaining the progression of technique, history and context that have resulted in something that often changed the world. With a bit of practice and preparation I have found that I can now do the same in museums that Mona doesn't cover, like the Getty in LA.

Mona carries you pretty well from Egypt to the renaissance and into the impressionists. It has a section on modern art as well, but it didn't do much for me. Pianos on the ceiling, a couch on top of a TV playing videos of people moaning, a box in the middle of the room - all of these still baffle. I understand modern art as a response to modern technology and short attention spans, but it is very hard to categorize or appreciate.

Which brings me back to Mondrian. Mondrian is abstract - most of his work is straight black lines with primary colors filling in the rectangles created by these lines. You can't call it beautiful like a Boticelli face, or powerful like a Michaelangelo sculpture, or emotional like a Van Gogh impression. Mondrian explains:

I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness.

After spending all day with lines and color combinations I have discovered a definite almost unexplainable beauty that can emerge from them. My Mondrian generator creates random lines and fills in random rectangles with random primary colors. But many are boring, some are ugly and a few are beautiful. With the realization of this spectrum of generated images that are all Mondrian-esque I can finally enjoy what Mondrian was up to. He probably anticipated a day when machines would create random imitations of his work - but he figured out how to build a very human inspired beauty from the seemingly random.

1 Response to Paint by number

  1. You probably already know about Christopher Alexander You might be intersted in "Subsymmetries" in re this exploration.

    Thank you for this Blog!!

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