Glitch, Generative and Software Art

The types of works that fall under the categories of Glitch, Generative and Software art are often used interchangeably within the three categories, and are most often associated with art that uses computers in some aspect of their construction. It consists of fuzzy boundaries between genres and a manner of approaching art making that is only loosely defined, since it is a fairly recent form of practice and is constantly in flux. Alongside the realm of computing, these works embrace change and the technology derived from it, which produces a type of work that develops and embraces new ideas and methods very quickly.

Hannah Höch - "Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic" (
Hannah Höch – “Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic” (

Although these categories are usually associated with computer technology, it does not always have to be the case, and in fact, many researchers and practitioners trace the history of Glitch, Generative and Software art to practices that pre-date computers. Rob Myers notes the influences of Glitch practices in historical traditions of process and chance, like Surrealism, Dadaism, Situationism and Oulipo, all of whom embraced encounters which would jar spectators out of their passive routines. In his discussion on generative art in the book Generative Art: a practical guide to using processing, Matt Pearson highlights early musical traditions like Mozarts Musikalisches Würfelspiel (Musical Dice Game) to generate compositions through chance, and the more contemporary works of John Cage as major examples of the application of real-world systems as opposed to computing to create generative art.

In an attempt to define the three categories, it is important to note that while they are separate forms of practice, there is much similarity between them. Pearson lists a series of attributes that seem to define generative art, which notes that:

“…generative art definitely is…

  • An algorithmic way of creating an aesthetic
  • A collaboration between an artist and an autonomous system.
  • An exercise in extracting unpredictable results from a perfectly deterministic process.
  • A quest for that sweet spot between order and chaos
  • A fresh, fun approach to coding
  • A growing medium with huge potential…” (12).
Glitch Art by Rosa Menkman  (
Glitch Art by Rosa Menkman

This description echoes that of Hugh S. Manon and Daniel Tempkin in “Notes on Glitch” they attempt to define glitch art by creating a list of functions that apply to the artform. They similarly underscore ideas of algorithmic systems and code that functions semi-, or fully autonomously, however their interest lies in disrupting the smooth functionality of that system. They emphasize that “…it is a given program’s failure to fully fail upon encountering bad data that allows a glitch to appear”, and it is this notion that rubs against Pearson’s “quest for that sweet spot between order and chaos”. Both genres seem to function through an interest in process, one by creating autonomous processes and the other by disrupting ones that are already in place. Like the historical Surrealist games of chance, these new or mutated programs then serve to draw attention to the ways that these systems normally operate invisibly, and engage our critical attention toward our generally passive reception of them.

The final category of software art shares many similarities with the other two… often a work can be software-based AND one of the other categories, but it does not have to be. Inke Arms traces the genesis of the term “software art” to the transmediale 2001 festival, where it established that it “…comprises projects that use program code as their main artistic material or that deal with the cultural understanding of software..” (8). As with the other categories, software art is interested in the systems and algorithms that underlie the work itself, however unlike the others which seem interested in the effects of the system to create something new, this particular genre focuses on the structure and cultural implications of it in itself. Once again, like the Surrealists and Situationists, it is an attempt to draw attention to the passive way we engage with the world, and a push towards critical contemplation by engaging with it in a new manner.

Simon Biggs - "Babel" ( -
Simon Biggs – “Babel” ( –

Key Features
-Intermediality and hybridity.
-Utilize systems and algorithms.
-Balances working within the system and disrupting it to create a new product or context.
-Often (but not always) engage specialized technology in ways that subvert their original design.
-Draws attention to the materiality or performance of their (often digital)technologies or systems.
-A collaboration between the human artist and an inhuman system, code, or algorithm.
-Engages history and discourse around technology (defined loosely by Wikipedia as “…the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization…”).

Realms of Influence

Kaseo - Punk Pikachu circuitbending ( bent-o)
Kaseo – Punk Pikachu

All three of these categories, along with much other new media work, are often considered to be outsiders within the art world. The work that is produced is often ephemeral and/or difficult to collect because of rapidly changing technology, therefore it has not become a part of mainstream art culture. Histories seem to connect much of this work to outsider culture in the 1960’s and 70’s, and therefore much of the work still maintains some trace references to DIY, Punk, anti-establishment and grassroots tactical activism.

However several festivals and organizations have worked for years to bring together the community of practitioners into a more general conversation with one another and with audiences. Festivals like Ars Electronica (established in 1979) have played a huge role in popularizing and developing dialogue around Glitch, Generative and Software art (among other genres of new media practices). Ars Electronic also offers support to creators through the Prix Ars Electronica, an award that recognizes excellence in the field, and through their year-round, physical and virtual facilities that offer places for artists to work, connect with one another and create interest around their works.

Finally, like many other types of new media practices, these genres are also deeply influenced by popular culture, scientific and other technological advancements as well as an interest in their historical (and present)role in the art world. The genres tread many boundaries and work the liminal spaces between them to draw attention to their political, cultural and aesthetic contexts.

Significant Practitioners
Rosa Menkman – –
Matt Pearson –
Philip Galanter –
Nick Briz –
Evan Meaney –
Jon Satrom –
Jon Cates –
Andreas Broeckmann –
David Rokeby –
Antonio Roberts and Jeff Donaldson –
Corey Arcangel –
Joanna Berzowska –
knowbotic research –
Doug Aitken –
Michiel William Kauw-A-Tjoe –
Simon Biggs –
Glitchr –

Significant Researchers
Matt Pearson –
Philip Galanter –
Rosa Menkman –
Rob Myers –
Florian Cramer –
Matthew Fuller –
Knowbotic Reseach –
Petra Cortright –
Hugh S. Manon –
Daniel Tempkin –
Celestino Soddu –
Caleb Kelly –
Michael Whitelaw –

Important Exhibitions and Projects
International Conference on Generative Art –
International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) –
Transmediale –

Important Texts
Benthall, Jonathan. Science and Technology in Art Today. London: Thames & Hudson, 1972.
Briz, Nick. Nick Briz. Nick Briz. N.d., N.p. Web. 14 October 2013. <;.
Broekmann, Andreas. “Image, Process, Performance, Machine: Aspects of an Aesthetics of the Machinic.” MediaArtHistories. Ed. Oliver Grau. Cambridge: MIT P., 2010. 193-205. Print.
Goriunova, Olga, and Alexei Shulgin Eds. Read_me: software art & cultures. Proc. of the
Software Art and Cultures Conference, 23-24 August 2004. University of Aarhus. Aarhus: Digital Aesthetics Research Centre, 2004. Print.
Kelly, Caleb. Cracked Media: The Sound of Malfunction. Cambridge: MIT P., 2009. Print.
Hyperseeing. International Society of the Arts, Mathematics, and Architecture, 2006-2013. Web.
Jon, McCormack, and Mark d’Inverno Eds. Computers and Creativity. Heidelberg: Springer, 2012. Print.
Pearson, Matt. Generative Art: a practical guide using processing. Shelter Island: Manning Pub., 2011. Web/ Print. <;.
Reas, Casey and Chandler McWilliams. Form + Code in Design, Art, and Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. Print.
Romero, Juan J, and Penousal Machado Eds. The Art of Artificial Evolution: A Handbook on Evolutionary Art and Music. Heidelberg: Springer, 2008. Print.

Important Centres/ Organizations (network & online resource)
Ars Electronica –
The Banff Centre –
Digital Art Museum –
Dorkbot –
Harvestworks –
Eyebeam –
Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/ Musique –
Intercommunication Center –
The Internatonal Society of the Arts, Mathematics, and Architecture.
Media Art Net –
Rhizome –
Turbulence –
Variable Media Network –
Domus Argenia –
Software {ART} Space – –
Furtherfield –

Works Cited
Ars Electonica. Ars Electronica. N.d., N.p. Web. 14 October 2013. <;.
Manon, Hugh S., and Daniel Tempkin. “Notes on Glitch.” World Picture Journal 6 (2011): N.p. Web. 14 October 2013. <;.
Myers, Rob. “Glitch as Symbolic Form.” Furtherfield. Furtherfield, 23 May 2013. Web. 14 October 2013. <;.
Pearson, Matt. Generative Art: a practical guide using processing. Shelter Island: Manning Pub., 2011. Web/ Print. 14 October 2013. <;.
“Technology”. Wikipedia The Free Encylopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 9 October 2013. N.p. Web. <;.


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