There's Paint in my Computer

In Search of the Medium

In 2022, I began to think of my smart contracts as "medium-native artworks." After all, they were designed for and within the EVM and its constraints; they were interoperable, exposed APIs to interact with the visual art, and experimented with blockchain incentives. My thinking went further: they're native to computing arts, digitally native, because they're math equations quantized to the pixel and its RGB color space. Surely, this makes the work special and worthy of attention, or at least a pure gesture exploring the medium. I mean, it’s not like I’m pretending it’s paint.

remnynt, relic #270, the reliquary, April 2022. Digital art (EVM-generated HTML)
remnynt, relic #270, the reliquary, April 2022. Digital art (EVM-generated HTML)

This piece will show why I was wrong and how the combative discourse around physicality and skeuomorphism in software art is misleading and misinformed.

Lost in the Discourse

I need to use better words. Native is a word about otherness. It is to say, "most everything else is foreign." It does not elevate a work of art, it puts down others. In using it, I wanted to draw lines to define the medium of my practice, but in retrospect, it feels more like saying, "my work is not like theirs." Which is unfortunately a sentiment we see all too often on social media, where nuance is a blood sacrifice on the arena grounds before artists reduce themselves to combatants for attention. I think our work deserves better, and it starts by recognizing the fallacies in our arguments.

The debate around "traditional media" in generative art has been a sticky one, and having felt strongly on both sides of it, I’d be so happy to dismantle this false dichotomy once and for all.

Software is World-building

Creating an arbitrary spectrum of physicality, and opining sweeping judgements about either side of it, is extremely reductive, and it does artists on both sides a disservice. Rather than spending time with a piece and thinking about what the artist is trying to say or how it was made, we are picking one of two buckets, and tossing out the other. With layers of entangled systems built on a foundation of logic and math, making art with software is most akin to world-building, and if you're not engaging with that depth, then you're not really seeing the art.

"Each generative art project is a world itself." - Licia He [1]

Collections like Licia’s “Seeing and Believing” demonstrate how art can be simultaneously digital and physical.

The truth about this digital-to-physical spectrum is that it’s shallow - it doesn’t extend beyond two pigeonholed definitions of surface aesthetic - because making something look physical with software is an arduous digital endeavor with deep roots in the history of visual computing.

Digital Paint

While developing the styles for Proscenium, a friend noticed I'd worked squares and circles into my compositions. The actual geometries are more like ancient temples and impossibly tall spires, but without their third dimension in the final outputs, they are reduced to simpler shapes. My friend asked, "are you adding triangles next?"

remnynt, Proscenium test output, December 2023. Digital art (WebGL)
remnynt, Proscenium test output, December 2023. Digital art (WebGL)

The absence of triangles is intentional - it's a nod to the fact that the entire piece is triangles. The default render is a geometry of more than 8 million, all very small, and weaved together to look like paint on canvas. Through that lens, the piece is an homage to the tradition of Computer Graphics, a field where the fundamental building block has been the triangle since the '70s.

remnynt, Proscenium screenshot, June 2022. Digital art (WebGL)
remnynt, Proscenium screenshot, June 2022. Digital art (WebGL)

I fell in love with artfully using those basic shapes in 2008, when I wrote my first heightmap algorithm; I remember pushing through the heavy doors of Chapel Hill's Sitterson Hall, racing down the steps because I was always late, faced with a triumphant digital battleship looming overhead, boasting breakthroughs in triangle count.

Turns out it was an Oil Tanker (ft. UNC's Computer Science Department)
Turns out it was an Oil Tanker (ft. UNC's Computer Science Department)

The trajectory of Computer Graphics software has been one of increasing realism over time. Software artists who explore that space are free to choose any point, whether at the cutting edge, or in homage to the earliest days, and leverage that context to say something or just to show love and self expression. I wanted to capture that starting point in my journey, so I’m using the simple lighting techniques from that era, and as many triangles I can pack into the browser without making it crash.

To Err is Human

… and so are pixels and paint.

In aggregate, our medium is a complex structure of math, computer science, intricately networked hardware, and layer-upon-layer of software building up from ones and zeroes. It is possible to zoom in and focus on one aspect, one programming language, one environment, or one piece of hardware, and make art within those constraints and about them - to define a narrow medium and to explore its specificity - and that's an interesting and worthwhile exercise if we learn something, gain a new perspective, or just find something we love. However, that's not what we see in today's digital art discourse. All too often, the most accessible attributes of visual programming are claimed as pure elements of the medium, yet we could not be further from the truth.

A cornerstone of digital aesthetics is the RGB color space - particularly around the highly saturated extremes, like the neon green of a text terminal or a visualization of "The Matrix" - but the RGB color model was developed in the 1850’s and 60’s [2], almost a century before digital computing. It helped contribute to the biological understanding of human visual perception - the red, green, and blue cones in our eyes. The color model can be fitted neatly in art historical terms as it led to the development of color photography. With that in mind, RGB is more analog and biological than it is digital. That is to say: work leveraging these aesthetics can be considered about computers, or a nostalgia for a certain era of computing and its constraints, but it is not in some way "digitally native" or more pure than other software art.

Similarly, we can trace the lineage of the pixel to Pointillism [3], a painting technique that first appeared in the 1880’s, and the simultaneous development of halftone printing. The shared conceptual ground of small dots as fundamental building blocks to an image illustrates how technology and art evolve together, not in a vacuum.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants; the elements of our medium that sometimes feel cold and logical - distinctly digital or native to computers - are in fact very human, and arise from advancements in thinking and technology pulled from both art history and science.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884. Oil on canvas
Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884. Oil on canvas

It’s Personal

The concept for Proscenium, as mentioned in a previous essay [4], started with my heightmap algorithm while first studying Computer Graphics. Having worked with JavaScript canvas APIs for over a decade, I was hungry to properly learn WebGL, and to get started, I set about recreating that terrain generator that meant so much to me.

I was so proud of it! The emergent archipelagos and winding rivers, things I had never intended, would arise from the generative system. In excitedly sharing with my family, my brothers chimed in, “what are you gonna put on it?” “Make it a game!”

While rebuilding it, I remembered that excitement, and my brothers’ suggestions. I remembered how we’d take a rusted metal shovel out to the beach to build giant sandcastles, patting down paths spiraling around, over bridges and through tunnels, just like dad taught us. We’d race golf balls until the waves started washing them away.

I thought about my collection of rubber balls, stretching an Electronics Boutique bag to its limit, and how I’d always wanted to find the best places to set them all loose at once.

What if they left marks along the way?

What if paint could bounce like rubber?

On the Importance of Audience

In my practice, I want to make truly great work. My best measure of that is somewhere between my own feelings about it, the critique it receives, the number of people who see and appreciate it, and the value of the work in a free market.

But before I can look back and assess a work’s success, I have to start with a set of goals, and they’re much harder to quantify. A great work of art, to me, takes an inventive concept and achieves a sublime aesthetic that captures observers in a moment of awe, while still presenting a thought-provoking challenge. I want my work to reach people and to have that same effect outside of the places I call home, the generative art scene and more broadly crypto.

The undercurrent here?

Art is other people. - 0x113d

Or more generally:

happiness [is] only real when shared - Christopher McCandless

Proscenium is far and away my best work towards achieving those goals. Outside of the concept and message, I believe paint as a visual language is very well-suited to reach and communicate with the broadest possible audience.

...the moment of active viewing, taking in the visual stimulus, engaging in pure perception. That is the moment when the artwork must succeed. If an intimate relationship between the viewer and the artwork is not established here, nothing else matters. - Tyler Hobbs [5]

Studying the tradition of painting has also served to push me in ways I would have never imagined. Even a casual google over the past century is enough to humble and inspire. To lead art history’s focus along a path from paint to software will take a monumental effort from digital artists of every perspective, and decades, if not centuries, of great work. We are just getting started.

Jules Olitski, With Love and Disregard: Zeus, 2002. Acrylic on canvas
Jules Olitski, With Love and Disregard: Zeus, 2002. Acrylic on canvas

The Only Should

I hope this writing and artwork give another perspective on how we can reimagine traditional media in software and generative art. As someone who collects and loves works like “Terraforms” by Mathcastles [6], known for its superb digital typography aesthetic and conceptual depth, this is in no way a position of maximalism or an attempt to tell artists what they should do in their practice.

Software is a medium where art is truly free. It’s more infinite than any medium before it; from a set theory perspective, it’s as infinite as our imagination and more, capable of simulating and representing every type of media that’s ever existed. It is unfathomably and wonderfully infinite. That is software.


The arguments in this essay sum up to one of many statements that Proscenium makes as an art piece. I hope folks enjoy any time they spend with the work, and that more broadly, it illuminates a way of thinking about what’s possible with software as a medium for systems art.

I’m honored and humbled to finally share that Proscenium is Art Blocks Curated, and will be available to the public on Valentine’s Day, 2024.

I’ll update this thread in the next few weeks leading up to the release.

Notes and Sources

  1. Quote from Licia He

  2. RGB Color Model

  3. Pointillism

  4. Proscenium

  5. Intellectualism has Hampered Generative Art

  6. Terraform Explorer

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