Mosaic Toolkit Adventures

Mosaic Toolkit by Lance Otis.  It's a "photoshop" filter that I use in XnView running with Wine on Ubuntu Linux; that's why it's really not a Photoshop filter in my mind, but then I guess "Linux" is just a kernel too and not a whole operating system.

I start with the Vernissage filter by Mario Klingemann that makes colored squares and rectangles; it's part of his Instant Art collection of filters -- a good name, I think.  Then I go over to the Mosaic Toolkit and change the default settings to Square Rings (from just plain Squares) and set the Cell Size pixels to 10.  Then I wait a really long time (it works faster natively on Windows) and click on apply.

After that you have the square shapes with little square windows and railings on the sides and it's just a matter of trying out different filters to change the colors or other simple things like that.  Because the shapes are so clean and simple, many of the filters have much pronounced effects than when you apply them to more complex and photographic type images.  It also makes for very small file sizes because they can be indexed, often down to 16 colors, and saved as pngs with file sizes as small as 5k.  Of course, we all have broadband now, so who cares about all that dial-up friendly file size stuff?

I learned something deep and profound while doing all this: creativity is inherently algorithmic.  We experiment with things (styles, methods, techniques) not in order to make a single image or piece of artwork, but rather in order to discover a procedure that can produce a wide range of interesting images.  The procedure is a style and style is a procedure -- an algorithm, set of instructions.

The mechanical or predictable nature of algorithmic art is therefore something which is common to all art forms, even ones which are "handmade" like painting or drawing.  Artists develop styles by experimenting and finding combinations of things which work and discarding ones that don't.  Personal style is a big part of many artist's career objectives and in some extreme cases, the only goal they have -- to make artwork that consistently reflects a unique visual flavor.

So when it comes to working with machines -- algorithmic art -- one should attempt to discover styles or syndromes of effects that produce a type of imagery that is reproducible but capable of great variation.  Vernissage and Mosaic Toolkit are one of those discoveries.


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