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. *

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

ExpanDrive 5.4.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
Espionage 3.6.6 - Simple, state-of-the-a...
Espionage offers state-of-the-art encryption and plausible deniability for your confidential data. Sometimes, encrypting your data isn't enough to protect it. That's why Espionage 3 goes beyond data... Read more
Pinegrow Web Designer 2.94 - Mockup and...
Pinegrow Web Designer is desktop app that lets you mockup and design webpages faster with multi-page editing, CSS and LESS styling, and smart components for Bootstrap, Foundation, Angular JS, and... Read more
1Password 6.3.3 - Powerful password mana...
1Password is a password manager that uniquely brings you both security and convenience. It is the only program that provides anti-phishing protection and goes beyond password management by adding Web... Read more
Sublime Text 3126 - Sophisticated text e...
Sublime Text is a sophisticated text editor for code, markup, and prose. You'll love the slick user interface, extraordinary features, and amazing performance. Features Goto Anything. Use Goto... Read more
ForkLift 3.0 Beta 2 - Powerful file mana...
ForkLift is a powerful file manager and ferociously fast FTP client clothed in a clean and versatile UI that offers the combination of absolute simplicity and raw power expected from a well-executed... Read more
OmniFocus 2.7.1 - GTD task manager with...
OmniFocus helps you manage your tasks the way that you want, freeing you to focus your attention on the things that matter to you most. Capturing tasks and ideas is always a keyboard shortcut away in... Read more
CleanApp 5.1.1 - Application deinstaller...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Together 3.6.1 - Store and organize all...
Together helps you organize your Mac, giving you the ability to store, edit and preview your files in a single clean, uncluttered interface. Features Smart storage. With simple drag-and-drop... Read more
Cloud 4.1.1 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more

5 great apps for the budget traveller
Travelling abroad, or even within your home country, has never been easier thanks to our handy smartphone companions. There are hundreds of apps on the market that promise to make your world journeys hassle-free, but we've selected five of the... | Read more »
Zip—Zap (Games)
Zip—Zap 1.01 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.01 (iTunes) Description: Touch to contract.Release to let go.Bring the clumsy mechanical beings home. · · · over 100 levelsno adsno in-app-purchases Zip—... | Read more »
Paperback: The Game (Games)
Paperback: The Game 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: You are an author trying to finish kitschy paperback novels. Complete Westerns, Science Fiction, Romance or even a Crime... | Read more »
How to Rule With a Firm Hand in My Majes...
My Majesty is a kingdom management sim not unlike August’s magisterial hit, Reigns. It’s essentially a reskin of developer Tigrido’s previous management sim, Dictator. As supreme ruler of the land, you must consult with a number of subjects to... | Read more »
Our 5 Favorite iMessage Sticker Packs
At long last, iMessage joins the ranks of messaging apps the likes of LINE and Whatsapp, adding an impressive collection of stickers. They’re a great way to add a little something extra to your daily conversations. [Read more] | Read more »
How to get past Vulture Island's tr...
Vulture Island is a colorful and quirky mish-mash of platforming and puzzles. It’s creative and fresh, but sometimes the game can throw a curveball at you, leaving you stuck as to how you should progress. These tips will help you explore smoothly... | Read more »
The new Clash of Kings is just for Weste...
If you’ve played the original Clash of Kings, you’ll probably recognise the city building, alliance forging and strategic battles in Clash of Kings: The West. What sets this version apart is that it’s tailor made for a Western audience and the... | Read more »
Frost - Survival card game (Games)
Frost - Survival card game 1.12.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.12.1 (iTunes) Description: *Warning: the game will work on iPhone 5C and above and iPad Pro / 4. Other devices are not supported* | Read more »
How to build and care for your team in D...
Before you hit the trail and become a dog sledding legend, there’s actually a fair bit of prep work to be done. In Dog Sled Saga, you’re not only racing, you’re also building and caring for a team of furry friends. There’s a lot to consider—... | Read more »
How to win every race in Dog Sled Saga
If I had to guess, I’d say Dog Sled Saga is the most adorable racing game on the App Store right now. It’s a dog sled racing sim full of adorable, loyal puppies. Just look at those fluffy little tails wagging. Behind that cute, pixelated facade is... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Aetna to Transform Members’ Consumer Health E...
Health care benefits company Aetna, which has an estimated 46.3 million clients, today announced a new initiative to revolutionize members consumer health experience by combining the power of iOS... Read more
USB-IF Announces USB Audio Device Class 3.0 S...
USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the support organization for the advancement and adoption of USB technology, today announced the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification to establish USB Audio over... Read more
Clearance 12-inch 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks, App...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 12″ 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks available for $1189, or $410 off original MSRP. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free... Read more
Logitech SmartDock and Skype For Business Com...
Logitech has announced Logitech SmartDock, an AV meeting room solution designed in collaboration with Microsoft. Logitech SmartDock works with Skype for Business and qualified devices, including... Read more
27-inch iMacs on sale for up to $220 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 27″ Apple iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2099 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1899.99 $... Read more
Apple Macs and iPads available for up to $300...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2899, $100 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3799, $... Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro (MJLQ2LL/A) on sale for $1799, including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Amazon also has the 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro (... Read more
Toughbook Celebrates 20 Years of Ruggedized M...
Panasonic System Communications Company of North America, Division of Panasonic Corporation of North America (Panasonic) today celebrates the 20th anniversary of its industry-leading Toughbook mobile... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Sr. *Apple* Mac Engineer - Net2Source Inc....
…staffing, training and technology. We have following position open with our client. Sr. Apple Mac Engineer6+ Months CTH Start date : 19th Sept Travelling Job If Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions-Norfolk,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.