Widening circles


This post is over 2 years old. A lot has changed since then! Take these words with a grain of salt and some patience with past me, who no longer exists.

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

– Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)

The following generative art piece is made by repeatedly drawing circles with smaller and smaller diameters. Perlin noise is applied to both the colors and positions to produce some variation.

You can click the piece (or refresh the page) to see a new rendition of it.

The piece was inspired by the first 2 chapters of Generative Art by Matt Pearson, which has been a joy. Some selected quotes from its prose:


Without giving it much thought, we have turned into augmented beings existing in a world that is simultaneously real and virtual.


Computing is what a stream does as it finds its way downhill toward the ocean. It’s what the planets do as they move in their orbits. It’s what our bodies do as they maintain the balance needed to keep us upright. It’s what our DNA does as it unravels. Computing is what I’m doing now as I process these ideas and output them as text—and what your brain is doing as you read the words and form your own ideas as a result.

This is why I can say, without contradiction, that while I still find computers boring, I think computing is cool. The only place computers really come into it is in attempting to simulate these computations or creating new ones to rival those of the natural world.


With design, the intention is to produce a visual that produces the same response in everyone who sees it—the intention (such as “street,” “retro,” or “subtle”) should be mostly unambiguous. With art, you’re still aiming to produce a response, but if that response is different in different people that doesn’t matter. It’s fine for one person to like a piece while another sneers. Even better, if one viewer loves the work, we would hope another might hate it. If we can foster such an extremity of reaction, it’d be a measure of success. Perhaps the only cardinal sin of art is to be boring.


Like the landscape gardener, the lot of the generative artist is to take naturally evolving phenomena and to fashion them into something aesthetically pleasing. It’s finding that point of balance between the beautiful unruliness of the natural world and the desired order of our ape brains. A garden that is unkempt and overgrown is unpleasing to us because it’s too far into the realm of the chaotic, whereas concreting the area instead is the tidiest, most ordered of solutions, which also removes all beauty.

The sweet spot is between the two, where the grass is neat and evenly cut but still no two blades are alike or move in perfect synchronicity—where the colors of the flowers are evenly balanced, but not in a way that is exact and precise. The sweet spot is where the “art” lives.


With generative art, the autonomous system does all the heavy lifting; the artist only provides the instructions to the system and the initial conditions.

The artist’s role in the production process may be closer to that of a curator than a creator. You create a system, model it, nurture it, and refine it, but ultimately your ownership of the work produced may be no more than a parent’s pride in the work of their offspring.


The purpose of a tool is not only to extend our capabilities; it should also enhance the flow of our creativity. The newest software gives us the power to fashion the world in ways that would have been unimaginable only 50 years ago, but there is still a long way to go in terms of a natural artistry to their use.