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The Organic Artists

Organic artists are a vital new movement in the visual arts and music. Recognizing the beauty in natural forms (as have all artists down the ages) these artists seek to plumb the basic generative rules behind forms in nature. Armed with tools like genetic algorithms, L-systems, neural networks and automata, these artists can use them both as a painter's palette and sculptor's tools to create stunning organic art.

What role will organic artists play in the digital biota movement and the emergence of the new Cyberspace? Darwin's system of natural selection will apply to biota in Cyberspace as it does to life forms in the world of atoms. If it is survival of the fittest, then what defines fitness in digital ecosystem? Given that a digital lifespace is very much an artificial world, inseparable (for the moment) from the millions of users that feed and maintain it, the success of digital biota will be closely tied to how users value their presence. If a representative form of digital biota (a biote) grabs our attention and encourages us to make a copy and forward it to our friends (or enemies), then it has been reproductively fit. If an organic artist crafts a biote that is aesthetically pleasing or performs wondrous feats of animation, then the artist has served as successful midwife. Of course organic artists as a whole will help beautify and interpret all forms of the emerging inhabited Cyberspace and we will owe a great deal to their talents.

The Grand Masters

The artists featured here take much of their inspiration from grand masters who came before them. Perhaps the original digital generative artist is Benoit Mandelbrot, who in the early 1980s created a branch of mathematics called Fractal Geometry. In August of 1984 I was on an assignment to IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center and I remember being amazed by the images pinned onto Dr. Mandelbrot's office door showing landscapes which seemed to grow on forever and could be viewed at any level of detail. Fractal algorithms are a cornerstone of the organic art movement and frequently used in virtual worlds. Thousands of Web sites cover the work of Mandelbrot and the field of fractals. Searching the Web for either of these words will bring up these sites.

While visiting the Santa Fe Institute in August of 1994 I was rendered speechless by another set of images, Karl Sims' creatures. The Santa Fe folks had just installed software called Mosaic and they were browsing this newfangled thing called the World Wide Web and had happened upon Sims' first web page. They were playing movie sequences of Sims' creatures, which were built up out of blocks and exhibited lifelike swimming, flying and walking behavior. Sims was a chief scientist at Thinking Machines in Cambridge MA and used of one of their powerful multi-processor Connection Machines to create moving creatures within worlds having the physics of wind, gravity and friction. You too can play the original MPEG movies of some of Karl Sims' Virtual Creatures at:, they are great to watch! Sims created plenty of other "evolutionary art", you can search the Web for this too.

Our featured artists

I am featuring four organic artists who I have come to know over the last couple of years. It seems to me that these artists represent an exciting vision for the future shape of Cyberspace.

William Latham

Charles Ostman

Darrel Anderson

Steven Rooke

Organic Art Gallery

The following gallery shows only a small sampling of the work of these artists. Indeed there are perhaps dozens or even hundreds more organic arts talents out there. For more images of organic artists visit the home page of at and links of the companion book website at: Following the gallery we will include short descriptions of featured artists

Figure 13.6.1:
Organic Art from the Virtual Garden by William Latham et al

Figure 13.6.2: os1c.jpg
Charles Ostman's nano-life synthetic sentient starburst

Figure 13.6.3: oa2f.jpg
QEar Shell by Darrel Anderson

Figure 13.6.4: rooke1.jpg
In The Beginning by Steven Rooke
Figures 13.6.1-4: Gallery of Organic Arts

The Organic Sculpture of William Latham

Starting out at the Royal College of Arts in London and then working at the IBM Scientific Centre in Winchester, U.K., artist William Latham developed what he called his "evolutionary tree of forms". Beginning from a fascination with horns, Latham worked with a number of people to customize a solid modeling software package to bring this tree of forms into reality.

Latham's style is inspired by stalactites, the art of the Baroque period of and of Rene Magritte, and science fiction films such as Aliens. Latham and his colleagues have produced some of the most stunning organic sculpture I have ever seen. One sample from the Virtual Garden is shown in our gallery.

Today, with their software tools in hand, users of Artworks products generate thousands of pieces through the random mutations of the basic genetic generative codes. In this way, a generative artist becomes a creative gardener, selecting pleasing forms to propagate and mutate further.

Download organic art screen savers and purchase virtual gardens and art mutators on CD-ROM from Computer Artworks. Find the Computer Artworks homepage at:

The NanoWorlds of Charles Ostman

Charles Ostman is a real wonder of a "Professional Synergist" from Berkeley, California. Ostman brings his years of experience in building successively smaller and more complex electronics at Lawrence Berkeley labs and intense interest in Nanotechnology to bear through his organic art vision. Osman's works seek to give us a reflection from a future "virtual terraform" inhabited by "synthetic sentients". Ostman sees a time in the future when Nanotechnology (the ability to make things one atom at a time) renders all current economic systems obsolete and transforms human lifestyles and our very perception of reality Ostaman is science editor for Mondo 2000 and a frequent guest on Art Bell's Coast to Coast all night radio show.

The basic inspirational building blocks of Ostman's art include molecular machines, self assembling "nano lego" components, nanobots and nanocritters, pseudo proteins, quasi viral components, "artificial" organisms, and ubiquitous nano "foglettes". Visit the NanoWorlds of Charles Ostman at Berkeley Designs' Web site on Nanothinc:

Darrel Anderson's GroBot

GroBot is software being developed by artist Darrel Anderson to give kids a fast, fun, intuitive 3D drawing environment that has a distinctive biological feel. GroBot will allow kids to explore the synergy between art and science. Anderson's entire project owes a lot to Seymour Papert's programming language for kids called LOGO and Papert's ideas about learning and thinking. Kids will be able to enter LOGO-like commands and employ recursion, proximity, touch, relative direction, attraction, repulsion, gravity and other useful behaviors to starter shapes such as blobs or cells.

Anderson's mission to bring organic art to kids is noble and very important for the development of biota in virtual worlds. After all, kids will be the main 'genetic hackers/organic artists' shaping the new 3D Cyberspace landscape!

Steven Rooke: Evolutionary Artist

Steven Rooke describes himself as an "evolutionary artist" who selectively breeds images from a primordial soup of virtual DNA. Rooke was inspired in a tradition started by evolutionary art pioneer Karl Sims (mentioned earlier in this section). Rooke does large runs of images, selects some for particular aesthetic fitness, and then commands the population to spawn again. Reproduction is accomplished by "sexual mixing" of virtual genes mostly from the fittest parents, accompanied by occasional random mutation. Particularly fit individuals survive intact and generate a whole new mosaic of images.

Rooke terminates image evolution (a mass extinction except for certain genes preserved in digital amber) and then begins a lengthy process of fine-tuning the colors and regions. Most images saved during the genetic run do not survive this further selection during post-production. The final images are produced onto IRIS prints or for filming on a film recorder.

The Evolutionary Art of Steven Rooke can be found at: with one of the best reference sections to the people, ideas and further reading in this area of digital biota at:

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.