Art Art Computing Art History Free Culture Free Software

Source Code

The part of my review of “White Heat Cold Logic” that seems to have
caught people’s attention is:

“for preservation, criticism and artistic progress (and I do mean
progress) it is vital that as much code as possible is found and
published under a Free Software licence (the GPL). Students of art
computing can learn a lot from the history of their medium despite the
rate at which the hardware and software used to create it may change,
and code is an important part of that.”

I have very specific reasons for saying this, informed by personal

When I was an art student at Kingston Polytechnic, I was given an
assignment to make a new artwork by combining two previous artworks: a
Jackson Pollock drip painting and a Boccioni cyclist. I could not “read”
the Boccioni cyclist: the forms did not make sense to me, and so I was
worried I would not be able to competently complete the assignment. As
luck would have it there was a book of Boccioni’s drawings in the
college library that included the preparatory sketches for the painting.
Studying them allowed me to understand the finished painting and to
re-render it in an action painting style.

When I was a child, a book on computers that I bought from my school
book club had a picture of Harold Cohen with a drawing by his program
AARON. The art of AARON has fascinated me to this day, but despite my
proficiency as a programmer and as an artist my ability to “read”
AARON’s drawings and to build on Cohen’s work artistically is limited by
the fact that I do not have access to their “preparatory work”, their
source code.

I have been told repeatedly that access to source code is less important
than understanding the concepts behind the work or experiencing the work
itself. But the concepts are expressed through the code, and the work
itself is a product of it. I can see a critical case being made for the
idea that “computer art” fails to the extent that the code rather than
the resultant artwork is of interest. But as an artist and critic I want
to understand as much of the work and its history as possible.

So my call for source code to be recovered (for historical work) and
released (for contemporary work) under a licence that allows everyone to
copy and modify it comes from my personal experience of understanding
and remaking an artwork thanks to access to its preparatory materials on
the one hand and the frustration of not having access to such materials
on the other. And I think that awareness of and access to source code
for prior art (in both senses of the term) will enable artists who use
computers to stop re-inventing the wheel.

If you are making software art please make the source code publicly
available under the GPL3+, and if you are making software-based net art
please make it available under the AGPL3+ .

Art Art History Art Open Data

Open Art Data – Datasets Update

Here’s a new OGL-licenced list of works in the UK government’s art collection, scraped for a Culture Hack Day –

The JISC OpenART Project is making good progress and considering which ODC licence to use. It should be both a great resource and a great case study –

I’ve mentioned it before but this Seattle government list of public art with geolocation information is really good –

And Freebase keep adding new information about visual art –

Europeana are ensuring that all the metadata they provide is CC0 –

Their API isn’t publicly available yet, though! 🙁 –

Finally, for now, some of the National Gallery’s data now seems to be under an attempt at a BSD-style licence. The OGL would be even better… –

Art Art Computing

Emacs For Art Writing

The Emacs text editor has been in active development since the 1970s. You can install it using your GNU/Linux distro’s package manager or via Apple’s Mac OS X software site. Real writers use plain text, and Emacs excels at editing plain text.

Emacs doesn’t use the key commands that have become standard since it was written, rather it uses a more expressive set of keypresses to manipulate text. To find or create a file, you press Control and f then Control and f (C-x C-f). To save a file you press Control and X then Control and W (C-x C-w). Then to quit press C-x C-c .

Emacs contains its own tutorial (which you can access by pressing C-h then just pressing t), and there’s a handy reference sheet included when you install Emacs or downloadable on the net (for example at ).

Emacs is also programmable, using a version of the Lisp programming language, and you can use this to extend and customise Emacs to better fit how you work.

You can turn Emacs into a full-screen text editor –

You can add on-the-fly spell checking –

You can even turn Emacs into a powerful idea capturing, note-taking, task list managing, publishing platform –

Specifically for art writing, I’ve written an Emacs “minor mode” that highlights mistakes such as use of the passive voice, weasel words, art writing cliches (“artbollocks”), and lexical illusions (duplicate words) –

Learning how to use Emacs is an investment that pays off massively,
turning your computer into a remarkably direct instrument for working
with text.

Art Free Culture Projects

Balloon Dog

My 3D printing art project “Balloon Dog” is now available as part of Collaboration and Freedom – The World of Free and Open Source Art. Furtherfield commissioned it as a sequel to Urinal.

balloon_dog2.pngThe model was created by Bassam Kurdali, and it’s available under a Creative Commons Attrubution-ShareAlike 3.0 unported licence (as with Urinal’s modeller Chris Webber, Bassam holds the copyright on the model). 

I submitted it to Boing Boing and Thingiverse, where there have been some interesting comments, and is already being used for purposes other than 3D printing, which is great to see.
Aesthetics Art Free Software Projects Satire


I turned the scripts I use for avoiding various cardinal sins of art
writing into an Emacs minor mode. This means that you can run it in your Emacs session as you write.

What do you mean you don’t use Emacs? Don’t be silly. 😉

Art Free Culture

Free Licencing For Art

Free Culture is primarily a synonym for free speech. In art, free speech is generally referred to as free expression. Artists face limits on their freedom of expression from various laws that limit their freedom to depict the visual environment, notably copyright law and trademark law. A successful strategy for tackling the restrictions of copyright on computer programming has been the use of “copyleft” licences that ironize copyright law in order to promote rather than restrict individuals’ freedom to use and adapt copyrighted materials.

Copyleft protects the freedom to use any materials that it covers wherever an individual may encounter them. It is inalienable and indivisible freedom. Weakening copyleft weakens this, and doing so should only be considered as a tactical last option.

Legal documents such as licences, however simple, can always have unintended consequences. Copyright law is complex and licences should always be drafted by lawyers familiar with the area. But this isn’t to say that alternative copyright licences should be motivated by lawyers or simply follow the faultlines of copyright law. They should be expressions of principle made rigorous and enforcible.

Software copyleft licences are tailored to the demands of writing and using software. But software is very different from other media covered by copyright, so this does not mean that other artifacts covered by copyright should have their own medium-specific licences. Culture is a dialogue, and much contemporary culture (including much contemporary art) is multi-media, or is adapted from or refers to work created in other media. A single-medium cultural licence would limit freedom of expression rather than protect the coherence of the medium.

It is possible to use non-copyleft “permissive” alternative copyright licences as a means of making irrational economic gifts of works to other individuals. The use of these gifts may support an individual’s freedom of speech. But this does not protect freedom of speech in general as the work they create using those resources need not be licenced to respect the freedom of its audience in return. Copyleft therefore protects freedom of speech more generally than permissive licencing.

Given all this, the licence that I believe should be used by individuals committed to artistic freedom of expression is a legally drafted general-purpose copyleft licence for cultural works. This excludes software licences (like the GPL), documentation licences (like the GFDL), and non-copyleft cultural works licences (like CC-BY and CC-NC-SA). It also, for reasons I will explain, excludes the FAL.

Aesthetics Art Art Computing Generative Art Projects Satire



Produces modified versions of images resembling part of an ouvre.

You’ll need opencv-python installed for this. PIL should already be installed.

[Original image by Tommerton2010 CC-BY ]

Aesthetics Art Politics

DDOS, Aesthetics, Speech

Distributed Denial Of Service attacks have a form. They have a political form, and they have a spatial form. The latter is the network topography of the attacks. At present the spatial form (and its properties) are incidental, but it is possible to make them part of the political message. This could make the form of the DDOS political speech and/or artistic expression.

Firstly the specific servers and the clients accessing them can be chosen for their geographic position using a system such as GeoLite. Shapes, diagrams and letters can be drawn in this way to communicate a specific message above and beyond the mere fact of the attack.

Secondly the properties of the network traffic sent to the servers can be varied to encode a message. The timing of messages can be used to transmit values and thereby numbers, text, images and even sound or video although the latter would be very slow.

The problems with these schemes are that the variation of traffic volume involved in structuring the messages, the topography of the Internet and the effects of the DDOS attack itself would work to destroy the coherency of the encoded messages. This functions as a commentary on or allegory for the effectiveness of reasoned argument versus simple rage.

Attacks of these kinds could be simulated using virtual machines on a closed network. This would function as a proof of concept and as art. Capturing and visualizing the network traffic of the attack would serve to recover the intended message or to track its degradation, and again would function as art.

Aesthetics Art Art Computing Free Software Politics Projects Satire


SendValues is a network testing tool that sends mathematical, aesthetic and textual values using the properties of rather than the contents of network messages.

You can get the source code here:

Both a stand-alone command-line version and an IRC-client version are included.

SendValues uses a naive pulse-width-modulation scheme for encoding values. Any improvements to the code gratefully received.

Here is the README:

SendValues is a system for transmitting aesthetic expression and political speech using properties of network protocols.

There are two versions, a command-line client and an IRC client. They use the same code and concepts apart from their different interfaces.

* Concepts

** Senders

A sender is a way of sending information over the network using an IP-based protocol. SendValues has the following senders:

TCP – Sends messages as TCP/IP connections.
UDP – Sends messages as UDP packets.
SYN – Sends messages as SYN requests.
HTTP – Sends messages as HTTP requests.
PING – Sends messages as ICMP echo requests.

Senders may be specified to the command line or IRC clients by these names.

** Values

A value is a message to be sent to a host using a sender. Values are quantized by the sender and transmitted over the network as naive pulse width modulation values.

SINE – A sine wave (argument is number of steps).
SQUARE – A square wave (argument is number of steps).
SAWTOOTH – A sawtooth wave (argument is number of steps).
TRIANGLE – A triangle wave (argument is number of steps).
TEXT – A block of text (argument is text to send).
IMAGE – An image, to be sent as 1-bit pbm data  (argument is image URL).

* The Command Line Client

The command line client takes all of its arguments from the command line.

-h, –help       – Print the help and exit.
-o, –host      – The host address to send to.
-s, –sender     – The sender to use (from the list above).
-m, –method     – The values generation method to use (from the list above).
-a, –argument     – The argument to the values generation method.
-c, –cell     – How long each value takes to send (in milliseconds).
-d, –duration     – How long to send values to the host.

These all have default values, including host which defaults to localhost.

* The IRC Client

The IRC client takes its initial configuration from the command line. Once it has connected to an IRC channel it takes commands from messages on that channel.

Command line arguments:

-h, –help    – Print the help and exit.
-s, –server    – The IRC server to connect to.
-p, –port    – The port on the IRC server to use (defaults to 6667).
-c, –channel    – The channel on the server to take commands from (omit #).
-u, –user    – The user on the channel to take commands from.

Channel and user default to “artcommands”.

Commands to the IRC channel have the following formats:

START [sender:]host[:port] kind[:argument]

Start sending values of the given kind to host using sender.
Where only sender or port are specified, the clients will guess which.
Argument can be a number of steps for wave senders, a url for the image sender, or arbitrary text for the text sender.

STOP host

Stop sending to the host. The host must be specified exactly as it was in the START command


Stop sending to all hosts.

Aesthetics Art Art Computing Free Software Generative Art Projects

Streaming Aesthetics: Shape

Streaming Aesthetics: Shapes
Here’s the code for Streaming Aesthectics: Shape . You can compile and run it in Processing.

It follows Twitter to see when people tweet shape names and then draws those shapes, packing them inside each other.

There’s some unused code for more complex shapes, but “star” and “cross” appear in the Twitter firehose more often than geometric shape names.

Next is Streaming Aesthetics: Pattern .