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Art and Complexity.

Art and Complexity J. Casti & A. Karlqvist (Eds) Published by Elsevier 180 pp., hard cover, ISBN 978-0-444-50944-4 RRP: US$56.95

A reviewer of a collection of conference papers might be tempted to point out the various ways in which the collection under review falls short, or fails to provide a satisfying narrative tour of the issues on which the conference is centred.

But this is a churlish view to take of a conference that engaged with issues that defy easy categorisation or unified understanding. The essays in the collection have been contributed by scientists interested in art and artists interested in complexity who were brought together for a week-long workshop to exchange views on how complexity and art fit together.

To a mathematician, complexity has some very specific meanings that are unlikely to be mirrored in an artist's understanding of the term. One thinks, for example, of the emergence of complex behaviours from simple rules, explored at length in Wolfram's recent tour de force A New Kind of Science; of the visually astounding mappings of the Mandelbrot and Julia sets; or the analysis of algorithmic complexity and randomness in Chaitins' works.

To an artist, complexity is something to be contrasted with simplicity. What is it that makes something complex? Lots of lines? Lots of ideas? Lots of interrelation between components?

There is much of interest to be found in this collection of essays. On balance, though, I do not feel that my understanding of art, or complexity, or of the interface between them, is any deeper--but perhaps that is as it should be; after all, an essential aspect of art is its subjectivity.

E. O. Wilson, quoted in Barrow's essay "Art and Science--Les Liaisons Dangereuses?" put it as, "The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science." Barrow presents the approach taken by the American mathematician Garrett Birkhoff in his book Aesthetic Measure where a curious attempt is made to measure the aesthetic value of 90 polygonal shapes. The shapes and their values are included in this essay.

Crutchfield's essay "What Lies Between Order and Chaos" argues that the essential concern is with patterns. Murray Gell-Mann's essay on regularities and randomness is a very accessible reflection on the way complexity arises from simplicity. Chaos, memes, genetic algorithms, complex adaptive systems, symmetry, natural selection and coinage are some of the many ideas discussed.

The longest essay, by Richard Taylor on Fractal Expressionism, explores the use of fractals in analysing art, particularly the work of Jackson Pollock, who will be familiar to Australian readers as the painter of Blue Poles. Finding something new to say about abstract expressionism cannot be easy but Taylor has certainly found a new angle of investigation.

Interested readers could explore further with a Google search on "Verbarium".
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Author:Housego, Simon
Publication:Australian Mathematics Teacher
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
Words:468
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