Computation and Art

The relationships between computation and art fascinate me. As an art historian and curator with a passion for visual and material culture (aka paintings and sculptures), math and computer science often seemed too invisible and cryptic to me. I never quite understood that programs are simply sets of instructions fed to machines by humans until I made my first sketch in p5*


Many artists that I admire share a curiosity for exploring the aesthetic and performative connections between computation and art; they extract and display the beauty and movement of numbers, patterns, mutations, permutations, sequences, and orders. I am a fan of R. Luke DuBois’s playful generative art interventions, as well as Lucinda Childs’s complex choreography.

After developing a foundation in coding and p5.js, I imagine building projects that further explore the parallels between compositions in painting and coding, perhaps within the contexts of dance, architecture, urbanism, or social habits of seeing.

e.g. How might code relate to pictorial representations of architecture and space?
“The Eavesdropper”, Folio 47r from a Haft Paikar (Seven Portraits) of the Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami,


For my first sketch, I chose to recreate Untitled (1991) by Donald Judd. Currently on view at MoMA as a part of the Judd retrospective, this massive sculpture is composed entirely of enameled aluminum and measures approximately 59 x 295 x 65 inches. While mostly celebrated for his Minimalism and towering “boxes” and “stacks,” Judd was as interested in computation as he was fond of making “specific objects”; computation played a central role throughout much of his artistic practice and career.

My first p5.js sketch
//Drawing; Preliminary Lessons in Coding (and Math) from Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1991
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1991, enameled aluminum, 59 x 295 x 65″ (150 x 750 x 165 cm), The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Link to Sketch + Code in p5.js Web Editor

Screenshot of my sketch in the p5.js Web Editor

There was something quite magical about making this sketch. As a first-time coder, this exercise was extremely challenging. It tested my patience, as well as my ability to count and type and think at the same time as envisioning a canvas within a blank screen. Prior to this week, I could not really make sense of the jumbled strings of numbers and letters that comprise code; the so-called “magic” that made “things” appear on my screens and rewired my life was always hidden or indecipherable to me. I enjoyed using the p5.js Web Editor because it made the exchange between visual and digital literacy more fluid.

The functions mirror the action of sketching, and so I used the following to create the drawing through code:

rect( )
circle( )
quad( )
line( )
stroke( )
strokeWeight( )
fill( )
noFill( )

Given the grid-type nature of the composition, I was able to practice using the coordinate system to build the panels and familiarized myself with thinking in terms of variables, points, and planes.

Donald Judd, Color Samples From RAL Chart and Pencil on Paper, 1986, 9 3⁄8 ×13 1⁄4″ (23.8 × 33.7 cm), Judd Foundation, New York

I learned that Judd used the RAL colour standard to compose and annotate preparatory collages that would inform the fabrication of his works. It was cool to translate the RAL color chart (based on Judd’s documentation “Color Samples from RAL Chart and Pencil on Paper”). I was surprised to see that Judd’s RAL color samples still existed, and had RGB equivalents that I could add to my sketch. While the colors are not exact matches, it was neat to experiment between painting and coding (the RAL color chart was often used for varnish and other industrial or construction materials).


The sketch took me a LONG time to complete. I initially wanted to create a self-portrait but that proved too difficult, so I turned to using simpler shapes instead. I struggled with grasping the coordinate system (until I created enough rect( )s and got back into the swing of the X and Y axes).

I am fresh to github and wish I turned to it as a resource during this exercise. While I did not post to github, I did have to look up RGB values and troubleshoot how to embed my code into my blog. I used the p5.js References section frequently. I also abandoned the idea of creating tiny screws for each rectangle (although I eventually figured out the formula to replicate them), as well as coloring in the left side and top of the piece.

An earlier version of my sketch (pre-RAL to RGB color)

Questions + Ideas for Class 2

Is there another fill( ) function that can identify and color in shapes formed by separate lines? For example, I wanted to fill in the left side and top of the sculpture as it appears in the image and sculpture, but I did not want to calculate the quad for each section separately in the interest of finishing this assignment on time!

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