Computer Science and Math teacher Dan Gries has always been intrigued by art.
Computer Science and Math teacher Dan Gries has always been intrigued by art. Though he claims he does not have much skill with a paintbrush or a pencil, Gries always had a strong appreciation for artists. After college, he began to get into computer programming. Gries said he “increasingly became interested in writing code to create interesting graphics and animations.” While exploring the animated realm of art, Gries stumbled onto something called generative art. Previously, Gries had struggled with more conventional ways of expressing himself through art. But he could now definitively say that he’d taken “computer programming as my chosen means for artistic expression.” Gries isn’t always sure how to refer to his art when people ask him about it. “I say digital art but then that’s not very descriptive... What a lot of people are calling it now is generative art because you are creating pictures that are generated from the code that you’ve written.” Generative art is art that has been created completely through the use of code, often with a certain level of randomization involved. Simply put, Gries “writes computer programs to create pictures.”
Generating art solely through the use of code is an involved process. First, Gries has to decide broadly what he wants his pictures to look like. To accomplish this, he “write[s] code to create specific kinds of shapes according to algorithms.” Once the outline of his picture is set, Gries then “uses some random number generation so the pictures that come out have these randomly chosen colors or shapes so certain things can be left up to chance.” Gries said that he chooses an element of randomness so “I can generate many different images and start to kind of select pictures I like.” Gries admitted this process isn’t always easy. Because he generates hundreds of pictures, pick-ing one “can be very tedious.” But, Gries makes sure to retain control over his code. “It’s never completely random: the basic rules are written by me.”
In the past year, Gries has started experimenting with new ideas in his art. Recently, he has become fascinated with “trying to draw circles that are imperfect.” According to Gries, the allure of the imperfect circle comes from the idea that “if you draw a circle by hand it won’t come out perfectly.” He’s accomplishing this through pictures “that are nothing but these circles imperfectly shaped and imperfectly colored.”
As Gries delves deeper into the possibilities of generative art, the popularity of his art has grown. In 2019, Gries enjoyed installations of his art at three separate locations in New Haven. His first success was a picture “put into the new Yale Science Building... as a permanent piece.” In August, to complete his next installation, Gries expanded his horizons past just generative art. He worked on a public art piece which is installed in a window in down- town New Haven, part of the Windowed Worlds initiative bringing art to empty storefronts to liven up the downtown area. This piece, constructed with his frequent collaborator Dan Bernier, creates a colorful tapestry out of hundreds of slices of colorful pool noodles, threaded together in a pattern worked out with computer code. The last place where Dan Gries originals could have been found was “on display at Atticus bookstore” up until this past February. Though Gries is thrilled with his success in the last year, he is “not doing any big projects.” He still shows his work at open studios, but feels “he has done enough.”
Despite his current passion for art, Gries did not grow up imagining his future held the creation of it. But, a deep seated love of art combined with a devotion to programming led him to generative art.
For others looking to pursue art, Gries’ biggest suggestion is finding inspiration in past experience. For him, an unconventional path worked out. So, he leaves young artists with this piece of advice: “Your vocabulary you use to create art might be something different from what you might anticipate. Like maybe you’re not good at pencil drawings or you’re not good at paintings or you never had that moment in your life to practice that craft but there’s something else you do that can be used for your creative voice. For me it was computer programming. Getting into art is just practicing what you know.”