TweetFollow Us on Twitter

May 92 - THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

YEAH, BUT IS IT ART?

DAVE JOHNSON

[IMAGE DaveJ.gif]


Digital image processing has come a very long way. Remember when MacPaint® was a revolutionary concept? Now we've got a plethora of sophisticated graphics programs available on the Macintosh for regular folks: 32-bit painting programs, image-processing programs, CAD programs, photo-realistic rendering programs, solid modeling programs, animation programs--you name it. The power to be your best, or the power to run off into the weeds? I guess it depends on who's at the keyboard. One thing is sure: art will never be the same.

I've been messing around lately with digital filtering of scanned images: taking an existing image and applying some sort of mathematical transformation to it. The results are sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful, often ugly, but always fun.

One of the programs I've been spending time with lets you interactively type in mathematical expressions and apply them to an image. This application, called Pico, is a Macintosh implementation of an image-processing language developed by Gerard J. Holzmann at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and described in his bookBeyond Photography: The Digital Darkroom.  (The Macintosh version I've been using was written by John W. Peterson here at Apple, and I've included it on theDeveloper CD Series  disc so that you can play with it, too.) If you're the least bit interested in image processing, you should read Holzmann's slim, friendly book. It describes the language in detail and gives lots of examples of its use. The book is full of fascinating photographs that have been tweaked and transformed using the language, ranging from the hilarious (in particular, see the Einstein caricature on page 35), to the sublimely beautiful (make up your own mind). The overall feel is one of whimsy and fun, with a strong dose of the joy of discovery. The book also includes a very instructive and in- depth discussion of the software that implements the language (a lexical analyzer, a recursive-descent parser, and an interpreter) and source code in C.

Holzmann's language allows you to invent, implement, and try out digital filters on the fly. It uses a C-like syntax and is decidedly mathematical, but that's where a lot of the fun comes in: seeing a photographic image quickly transformed by a simple mathematical formula is really fascinating. The language makes it easy to mess around and discover unusual things about math and filters: you can just type in an expression, hit the Enter key, and see the results immediately. The program operates only on 8-bit gray-scale images that are 256 by 256 pixels, but the power of the language far outshines this limitation. Try it, you'll like it.

There's another kind of digital filtering that I first learned about a little over a year ago in an article by Paul Haeberli at Silicon Graphics:Paint By Numbers: Abstract Image Representations , in the SIGGRAPH '90 Conference Proceedings. This is an interactive kind of filtering, which makes it a lot of fun. The concept is simple: Start with a given image, any image (call it the source). Create a new, blank one (the destination) that's the same size. Then you "paint" on the destination with the mouse, and at each point you touch, the color of the source image is determined at that same location. A"brush stroke" is then drawn in the destination at that position, with the source's color. If the brush just drew single pixels, you would be copying the source image exactly, which would be a pretty tedious way to copy it. Ah, but the brush can do anything it wants to, and that's where the fun begins. If the brush draws, say, a circle a few pixels in diameter, you get a sort of "blot" effect, with the blots overlapping each other haphazardly. Or you could draw a line in some random direction from the source pixel's location, or add some noise to the color so that it varies a little from the source color, or draw a clump of dots centered at the source pixel, or draw a silhouette of a wiener dog in the appropriate color, or . . . the possibilities are endless. In a way you're tracing the source, but the brush you use to trace with isn't exact, and the results can be striking.

The finished images tend to look very "painterly" and are often evocative of impressionist paintings like those of Monet or Renoir, or of the pointillist "divisionist" technique of Seurat. (Can you tell I've been spending some time with my handy-dandyRandom House Encyclopedia ? Thanks, Mom.) This is a refreshing move away from the trend toward photo-realistic rendering that you see so much of in computer graphics.

I wrote a Macintosh application that implements a simplified version of what Haeberli did, so I could play around with it. (The application and all the source code are on this month's CD, for you to mess around with. If you find any problems, please let me know.) The most fun part turned out to be writing the brush routines, and I was curious to see just how hard it is to incorporate plug-ins into an application, so I made up a simple plug-in interface for the brushes (plug-ins are code resources separate from the application that are loaded and run as needed). Surprisingly, it turned out to be pretty trivial to implement plug-ins. I figured I was going to be forced to descend to the level of A5 worlds and code resource headers, but with the exception of one subtle gotcha it was easy. Basically you just get a handle to the code resource with GetResource, lock it, dereference it, and call it. I had to do some ugly casting to convince the C compiler to let me make the call, but other than that there were almost no problems.

One thing turned up that I couldn't figure out, and I was forced to seek help. I was writing a filter routine (the application supports both brushes and filters as plug-ins) that was a modified version of the RedGreenInvert routine from the article "Drawing in GWorlds for Speed and Versatility" in this issue. I first tried it linked into my application, so I could use the source debugger on it. Once it was working, I converted it to a plug-in and BOOM, it crashed with a bus error. Some investigative work pointed to SwapMMUMode as the culprit, but I couldn't figure out why. (Trumpet fanfare) Bo3b Johnson to the rescue once again! It turns out that since I was calling the plug-in in 24-bit mode, when it came time to call SwapMMUMode the PC contained an address that had some of its high bits set (in this case the "locked" bit since I had locked the handle and the "resource" bit since it was a handle to a code resource). This is a bad thing. The solution, of course, is to call StripAddress on the pointer to the plug-in before calling it. That way the address in the PC is clean and SwapMMUMode is happy.

There are several commercially available applications that do Haeberli-like image manipulation. Monet, by Delta Tao Software, is a much more complete and sophisticated implementation of Haeberli's concepts, incorporating some of the cooler features like opacity control, getting the direction of the brush strokes from the movement of the mouse, and so on. (You gotta love Delta Tao Software: when a customer asks for an IBM version of one of their products, they gleefully answer "Buy a Macintosh.") There's also Painter, a truly unique and remarkable paint program from Fractal Design that simulates very naturally the media artists use--chalk, pencil, charcoal, and so on. It has a "cloning" function that's similar to Haeberli's in concept: you can manually or automatically draw over the "source" image with any of the brushes. Aldus Gallery Effects by Silicon Beach Software is a product that basically consists of canned filters that can be applied to images to transform them in interesting ways, many of which are similar to the effects you get with Haeberli's technique. And then of course there's Adobe Photoshop, the brilliant, precocious teenager of image- processing programs.

Photoshop seems to have become the de facto industry standard image-processing program. Its versatility is, so far, unmatched by any other program I've seen. And its plug-in interface has also become something of a standard: many Macintosh graphics programs (Painter, for one) now support Photoshop plug-ins, and I know of at least one software company that does nothingbut  writePhotoshop plug-ins. I think plug-ins are a very cool thing: they allow extension and customization of an application on the fly, bringing us a tiny step closer to the dream of "erector set" applications that can be taken apart, rearranged, and rebuilt by users to suit their needs. If you want to write some Photoshop plug-ins, you can find the documentation for the plug-in interface (along with examples in MPW C, MPW Pascal, and THINK C) on the CD.

Here's the big, deep question about these digitally transformed images: Are They Art? An image produced by any of these applications can indeed be "arty"; of that there is no doubt. But is it really art? Many graphic artists would immediately answer with a resounding "NO!" They'd say that it just looks like art, that it imitates art (kinda like life), but isn't really art because it'sautomatic . But many painters in the surrealist and abstract impressionist movements took great interest in what they termed "automatic" painting, painting without the intervention of conscious control. Jackson Pollock was a notable practitioner of this technique. Is the creation of a painting by automatic means any different, in principle, from what these computer-based tools do?

"Wait a minute!" these artists might cry, "Pollock began with a blank canvas! What he did was truly original! You (smug smirk) are just taking an existing image and transforming it with a computer. That's not art, that's just (expression of extreme distaste)filtering ."

"Wipe that smug smirk off your face," I might smirk smugly, "what about the dadaists? They claimed that art was anything that anyone decided tocall art, and I'm calling these images art." (Fun dadaist tales: Marcel Duchamp, a dadaist in New York, bought a urinal, signed it "R. Mutt," and called it art. He claimed that the signature alone made any manufactured item into a work of art. These "readymades," as he called them, sold quite well. And then there's Kurt Schwitters, a Hanover dadaist, who made collages from rubbish. Now the dadaist movement, admittedly, was intended to upset the status quo, rip apart the definition of art, and shock people out of their bourgeois sensibilities, but their influence is still strongly felt in modern art, and has forever muddied the definition of what art is. For that I heartily thank them.)

There's another eminently pragmatic definition of art: it's art if someone is willing to buy it. This one is distasteful in its materialistic slant, but I must admit that it's a useful one, at least to people who make a living making art. Then there's the Marshall McLuhan stance that "art is anything you can get away with." I personally love this one for its nebulousness, and I'm willing to leave it at that.

Whatever definition we pick, we still can't conclusively say whether these computer-transformed images are art. Art is just too slippery a thing to pin down, like trying to put a cloud in a chair. I think art is primarily a dialog between the creator and the experiencer: if something is communicated, I'll call it art. But in the final analysis, does it really matter? These tools are just another kind of computer fun, andeveryone , artist or not, can play.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • Beyond Photography: The Digital Darkroom  by Gerard J. Holzmann (Prentice-Hall, 1988).
  • Paint By Numbers: Abstract Image Representations  by Paul Haeberli (in the SIGGRAPH '90 Conference Proceedings).
  • Elbert's Bad Word  by Audrey Wood (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988).

DAVE JOHNSON would like to share with you a quote from The Three-Pound Universe  by Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi, a wonderful book about the human brain: "Research at Yale University's Center for Behavioral Medicine turned up the surprising fact that regular 'reading therapy'--that is, reading a book for half an hour a day--is neurophysiologically equivalent to the practice of TM. (Whether this means the Maharishi's mantras are comparable to Heidi  or merely reflects the crudeness of our measuring devices, we'll let you decide.)" This finding vindicates Dave's habits in a way no heartfelt argument ever could. *

Dave welcomes feedback on his musings. He can be reached at JOHNSON.DK on AppleLink, dkj@apple.com on the Internet, or 75300,715 on CompuServe. *

 
AAPL
$98.91
Apple Inc.
+1.24
MSFT
$44.22
Microsoft Corpora
-0.29
GOOG
$591.51
Google Inc.
+2.49

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Bartender 1.2.20 - Organize your menu ba...
Bartender lets you organize your menu bar apps. Features: Lets you tidy your menu bar apps how you want. See your menu bar apps when you want. Hide the apps you need to run, but do not need to... Read more
TotalFinder 1.6.2 - Adds tabs, hotkeys,...
TotalFinder is a universally acclaimed navigational companion for your Mac. Enhance your Mac's Finder with features so smart and convenient, you won't believe you ever lived without them. Tab-based... Read more
Vienna 3.0.0 RC 2 :be5265e: - RSS and At...
Vienna is a freeware and Open-Source RSS/Atom newsreader with article storage and management via a SQLite database, written in Objective-C and Cocoa, for the OS X operating system. It provides... Read more
VLC Media Player 2.1.5 - Popular multime...
VLC Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, MP3, OGG, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It... Read more
Default Folder X 4.6.7 - Enhances Open a...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click... Read more
TinkerTool 5.3 - Expanded preference set...
TinkerTool is an application that gives you access to additional preference settings Apple has built into Mac OS X. This allows to activate hidden features in the operating system and in some of the... Read more
Audio Hijack Pro 2.11.0 - Record and enh...
Audio Hijack Pro drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio with Audio Hijack... Read more
Intermission 1.1.1 - Pause and rewind li...
Intermission allows you to pause and rewind live audio from any application on your Mac. Intermission will buffer up to 3 hours of audio, allowing users to skip through any assortment of audio... Read more
Autopano Giga 3.6 - Stitch multiple imag...
Autopano Giga allows you to stitch 2, 20, or 2,000 images. Version 3.0 integrates impressive new features that will definitely make you adopt Autopano Pro or Autopano Giga: Choose between 9... Read more
Airfoil 4.8.7 - Send audio from any app...
Airfoil allows you to send any audio to AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, and even other Macs and PCs, all in sync! It's your audio - everywhere. With Airfoil you can take audio from any... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Traps n’ Gemstones Review
Traps n’ Gemstones Review By Campbell Bird on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CASTLEVANIA JONESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fight mummies, dig tunnels, and ride a runaway minecart to discover ancient secrets in this... | Read more »
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition Review
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition Review By Jordan Minor on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: GHOSTS BUSTEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The Phantom PI is an exceedingly clever and well-crafted adventure game.   | Read more »
More Stubies Are Coming Your Way in a Ne...
More Stubies Are Coming Your Way in a New Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
The Great Prank War Review
The Great Prank War Review By Nadia Oxford on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: PRANKING IS SERIOUS BUSINESSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Though short, The Great Prank War offers an interesting and fun mix of action and... | Read more »
Marvel Contest of Champions Announced at...
Marvel Contest of Champions Announced at Comic-Con Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Announced over the weekend at San Diego Comic-Con was the fairly exciting looking Marvel Contest of Champions. | Read more »
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review By Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: DULL SWIPINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The pizza power is weak when it comes to this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game.   | Read more »
Exploration Focused Puzzle Game Beatbudd...
Exploration Focused Puzzle Game Beatbuddy Set to Make Transition from PC to iOS this September Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
PlanetHD
PlanetHD By Nadia Oxford on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SPACE MADNESSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad PlanetHD will keep players busy for a while, though its unpredictable physics are a handful to deal with.   | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: July 21-25, 2014
Another Week of Expert App Reviews   At 148Apps, we help you sort through the great ocean of apps to find the ones we think you’ll like and the ones you’ll need. Our top picks become Editor’s Choice, our stamp of approval for apps with that little... | Read more »
Reddme for iPhone - The Reddit Client (...
Reddme for iPhone - The Reddit Client 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: News Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Reddme for iPhone is an iOS 7-optimized Reddit client that offers a refreshing new way to experience Reddit... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $1099,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $1099.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $100 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
Roundup of Apple refurbished MacBook Pros, th...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. Their prices... Read more
Record Mac Shipments In Q2/14 Confound Analys...
A Seeking Alpha Trefis commentary notes that Apple’s fiscal Q3 2014 results released July 22, beat market predictions on earnings, although revenues were slightly lower than anticipated. Apple’s Mac’... Read more
Intel To Launch Core M Silicon For Use In Not...
Digitimes’ Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai, report that Intel will launch 14nm-based Core M series processors specifically for use in fanless notebook/tablet 2-in-1 models in Q4 2014, with many models to... Read more
Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion: $100 g...
 Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion includes a free $100 App Store Gift Card with the purchase of any new Mac (Mac mini excluded), or a $50 Gift Card with the purchase of an iPad or iPhone,... Read more
iMacs on sale for $150 off MSRP, $250 off for...
Best Buy has iMacs on sale for up to $160 off MSRP for a limited time. Choose free home shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Prices are valid for online orders only, in-store... Read more
Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP, starting...
Best Buy has Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup. Prices are for online orders only, in-store prices may vary: 2.5GHz Mac mini: $499.99 2.3GHz... Read more
Global Tablet Market Grows 11% in Q2/14 Notwi...
Worldwide tablet sales grew 11.0 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2014, with shipments reaching 49.3 million units according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation... Read more
New iPhone 6 Models to Have Staggered Release...
Digitimes’ Cage Chao and Steve Shen report that according to unnamed sources in Apple’s upstream iPhone supply chain, the new 5.5-inch iPhone will be released several months later than the new 4.7-... Read more
New iOS App Helps People Feel Good About thei...
Mobile shoppers looking for big savings at their favorite stores can turn to the Goodshop app, a new iOS app with the latest coupons and deals at more than 5,000 online stores. In addition to being a... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
WW Sales Program Manager, *Apple* Online St...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.