On March 8, we publicly announced the launch of Le Random, a digital generative art institution that aims to collect, contextualize, and elevate on-chain generative art.
About the Author
thefunnyguys is in charge of the overall direction of Le Random and spearheads its acquisitions.
On March 8, we publicly announced the launch of Le Random, a digital generative art institution that aims to collect, contextualize, and elevate on-chain generative art. As co-founder, I want to share the story and motivation behind Le Random’s founding. I will take you through my personal journey with generative art, including my discovery of its rich history and the realization that it may be the art movement of our era.
I grew up in a household in which art was never far away. My mother used to take my brothers and me to galleries and museums from a young age. One of her favorite sayings has stuck with me: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” This appreciation of beauty was instilled in her by my grandparents who were passionate art collectors, focusing on African art as well as seventeenth-century still life paintings and drawings.
At the same time, technology has always been an interest of mine. Even as a child, the idea of being able to do more with less felt miraculous. By the age of 15, I even managed a small electronics shop with one of my older brothers. Eventually, this fascination resulted in a master’s degree in Business Engineering with a specialization in data science.
It was the latter - my interest in technology - that initially brought me to the NFT space in late 2020. My first encounters with this world serendipitously led me to Art Blocks after a few months. I quickly realized that the platform combined art and technology in the most novel way I had yet encountered. On Art Blocks, an artist uploads a computer program, which can theoretically generate an almost infinite number of unique artworks, to a blockchain. By using the blockchain in a clever way, the number of collectable outputs is limited, determined by the artist.
The Generative Art History Rabbit Hole
Art Blocks introduced me, like many others, to the concept of generative art. I ravenously began learning more about the rich history of this movement. As it turned out, artists from poets to musicians, choreographers and graphic designers had long given computers a central role in their practice.
Even more, some pioneering digital generative artists were creating generative works before they ever worked with computers. Vera Molnár, for example, was already relying on a “machine imaginaire” when she was creating artworks as a young child. Herbert W. Franke, who was not only an artist but also a celebrated science-fiction writer, scientist and speleologist, started making oscillographs in 1955, using an analog computing system. Both artists relied on machines and a pre-determined system to produce visuals beyond their imaginations.
It also became clear to me that generative art is not constrained to the use of computers. I came to see it as a way of thinking which results in a systems-based approach to art creation. According to Vera Molnár, this approach is a more humble way of creating art, in which the artist does not necessarily see their own intuition as sacred. They define a system which, in combination with randomness, can surprise even the artists themselves.
Il y a une chose qui peut remplacer l’intuition; c’est le random. (There is one thing that can replace intuition; it’s randomness.) - Vera Molnár "Vera Molnar: Randomness" MuDA, 2019
When it comes to precisely executing steps from a pre-defined system, the computer is the ideal partner, enabling artistic vision or even augmenting it. Thus, despite the seeming contradiction, computers can actually humanize art, as Molnár and others have argued.
The first generation of digital generative artists demonstrated the power and potential of this human-machine collaboration. In addition to Molnár and Franke, artists such as Manfred Mohr, Lillian F. Schwartz and Frieder Nake played a vital role in pushing the movement forward.
Another generation of pioneers emerged decades later with luminaries such as John Maeda, Casey Reas, Ben Fry, Lauren Lee McCarthy and Zach Lieberman. These figures created the necessary tooling for the art movement to proliferate. We can thank them for generative art’s easy global access. Together with artists such as Manolo Gamboa Naon, Joshua Davis and LIA, they pushed aesthetic boundaries and inspired an entire generation of artists to explore software-based practices.
The Movement of Our Era
The deeper I dug, the more apparent it became that generative art was well positioned to become the artistic movement of this era. As Tyler Hobbs has explained, code is the building material of modern society, as algorithms profoundly and intimately influence our daily lives. This dependence can lead to a sense of unease and mistrust: algorithms are stealing our attention, steering our actions and so on. But generative artists are showing the world that code can also be used to enrich our lives with thought-provoking, beautiful work.
The time we spend in programmed environments has only continued increasing, a trend unlikely to reverse. As such, employing computer code to create art, a reflection and commentary on the modern condition, only seems more natural, even vital.
Another reason generative art may become the defining movement of our era is its potential to facilitate the democratization of the traditional art world. Collecting physical art has significant financial, logistic and social barriers. Refreshingly, digitized collections largely eliminate these obstacles, as unique artwork has never been so practical, affordable and globally accessible. Just a few dozen dollars can go a long way on the Tezos-based, open generative art platform fxhash. While certain technological elements do introduce new challenges and risks such as wallet set-up and custody, I am confident that these will be lowered in the near term. Solutions like fiat credit card payments and improved security awareness are already becoming standard.
In an almost paradoxical way, I believe generative art can also help us appreciate the natural world on a more sincere level. Even the most intricately detailed projects do not come close to what nature offers. This helps me appreciate how special our pale blue dot really is.
Starting Le Random
Over the last few years, it became increasingly obvious to me that my firm belief in generative art was shared by only a few others. In the digital art world, most institutional collectors include generative art as a peripheral part of their strategy, but it is not the core. Impressive generative art collections can be haphazardly mixed with other genres of digital art simply because they are all digital assets.
As such, I did not feel that many of these impressive collections represented generative art itself adequately. They especially did not tell the story of the depth and breadth of its decades-long history, a story I felt needed to be told. At the same time, adoption from the traditional art world seems to be increasing, but this is an intentionally slow and conservative process.
With no obvious generative art-dedicated institution taking advantage of this modern-day Salon des Refusés prior to mainstream adoption, I decided to attempt building one myself. My vision for Le Random is to become a digital generative art institution consisting of two parts. First, we are a collection that visually tells the extensive story of this movement. Second, we are an editorial platform that contextualizes the movement’s place in art history, details its evolution and celebrates its cultural significance.
For the current community and the uninitiated, our collection will serve as the ideal place to discover generative artists and their iconic work. Further, our editorial section will provide a variety of resources that will help the community better understand the movement’s past and where it is headed.
Such an ambitious endeavor could only be a team effort, and I’m beyond grateful to embark on this journey with Zack Taylor, my long-time friend and co-founder, Peter Bauman, our researcher/writer and Conrad House, our analyst. While all of us have been active in the generative art space for years, we are thrilled to also have the support of our advisors who bring decades of experience to the table: Jason Bailey, Anne Spalter and Georg Bak.
I invite you to join us on this journey of celebrating generative art and the artists that make it all possible. As my mother says, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” At Le Random we aim to share the beauty of generative art with the entire world.
thefunnyguys, co-founder and CEO of Le Random, is in charge of the overall vision of Le Random and spearheads its acquisitions.