Art of Your Influence

Kody Trauger

Art of Your Influence is a process of generating fine art digital prints by using personalized computer algorithms to manipulate pixel color and form in original photographs. Personality data from each work's owner influences both the coding and photographic processes.

This project is inspired by the growing trend of objects to be personalized. Using diverse visual, oral and written tools, behavioral, emotional and factual information of a person's personality, likes and dislikes were collected. This information influenced the photographic process by controlling attributes such as zoom level, time of day the photo was taken, and subject. Similarly, computations used to manipulate pixels in the photograph were influenced by quantifying some personality data points. For example, the longitude and latitude values of an owner’s favorite place were encoded into an algorithm. In essence, this process combined human interactivity with the digital tools of the artist to create works that are an unique expression of both. Additionally, abstracted complementary prints have been created by zooming in on one tiny area of the primary works. These highlight the technical aspects of the project and act as microcosms of an exploration of hue, saturation and luminosity.

My early research was a general survey of products and services that personalize objects. For example: websites use data from social media to personalize their content and marketing; you can order custom products and inform them of a few details; or you might receive a gift from a friend that they made for you. I realized early on that all of these personalization systems relied on some type of data communicated from you either passively or actively and varied in the amount of what information the creator allowed into their process. I decided Art of Your Influence would contain both active and passive information but was unsure of what approach would capture the uniqueness of who someone is.

To decide on what type of data I would be collecting, I relied on my background in gender and sexual identity development. The theories and experiences of Kate Bornstein, Michael Warner, Michel Foucault and RuPaul informed me there are constantly shifting perspectives of who someone is. How someone perceives themselves, how others perceive them, and the subconscious perceptions of both are the three ways I decided to collect information about my participants. Additionally, these perspectives interact with each other and are framed by the context an individual may be in at any one moment so the geography and surroundings of where the artwork would influenced my process.

Deciding on the form for this project was an answer to a problem of permanence and mass production in my art practice. I knew I needed to look at other artists working in printed algorithmic art so I identified three artists that represent varying degrees of control each has over the algorithms they write. Ana Menkman inspired this project in the sense that that her work is about experimentation and relies on the ‘mistakes’ and visual artifacts created by writing computer code. In this way, there is very little control over the final visual generated. Eno Henze uses large data sets to control his algorithms, such as data from entire plant genomes. In this way, his work could be classified in the field of data visualization. Lastly, Sergio Albiac makes decisions to shape his algorithms based on his own visual judgement and person aesthetic. I decided to take the approach of writing algorithms based on my own preferences but also allow data from someone else’s personality to influence those algorithms.

I also researched algorithmic art and discovered the concept of ‘art of emergence” which is about embracing the patterns and graphics that emerge out of interactions between process systems and data. This concept is similar to personalized object production, one of the original inspirations for this project.

In Art of your Influence, I intended for the personality of each participant, their data, to combine with my system of data collection and my knowledge base of art creation. I would then stop making and print the result. The design goal was to reach a desirable visual result. This is my generative art of emergence and I think people interested in this project are also those interested in thinking about what exactly it is that makes someone who they are. Others may find interest in exploring ideas of personalization or might appreciate the works based on their generation as mathematical visual expressions.

I designed Art of Your Influence to be adaptable to most anyone willing to participate. Flexibility became key since every person is unique and wants or requires a different approach. It is this ability to be flexible and stress certain attributes over others that make each work unique.

I also focused on minimal data points for two reasons. First, I am more interested in the diversity and interaction between types of data, and secondly, I found big data reduced the personalization possible in the work given my timeline.

In designing the actual works, photography became the foundation off which everything else happened. I appreciated the visual results possible when ‘realistic’ forms and composition pushed through within the overall work. I set out for these works to be an exploration of color that relied on the photograph to provide information from which my algorithmic manipulation built upon. These algorithms mostly focused on the hue, saturation, and brightness values for each pixel in the photograph. I then incorporated quantified data from the owner into the code. The interpretation of their personality data was solely based on my own impressions, judgements, and choices as an artist. I would then adjust the algorithms until the best image was output and saved.

A work in Art of Your Influence started by collecting data about who someone is with the hope of capturing information about them from multiple perspectives.

I developed 5 data collection tools to do this. These are: a basic question and answer interview,

photographs of their home and current artwork in it, drawing exercises in which participants express themselves visually on an ipad, behavioral observations, and an online survey in which participants respond to multiple choice questions and can submit anything they want in writing.

After collecting their data, I would organize it into a visual data chart to help see it all at once. By reviewing these charts, I decided some data points would be controlled by a very specific pre-made interpretation method while other data points were left up to my subjective interpretation. After assigning the data points to an influential track (photography/inspiration or algorithms), I then determined a set of rules by which my photography would be confined by and took a series of photos. Then I chose the best image from the shoot and began accessing its pixels in Processing.

My coding process was experimental yet pushed forward with small specific goals. I may decide to write an algorithm that focuses on saturation only, or on the location of a particular type of pixel. Once I decided what attribute(s) the algorithms would control, I tweaked them until I reached a desirable visual result. Then I would incorporate the quantified data from the participant into the algorithms and thus influence my manipulation.

The final image was saved after running the computer code. It is then printed on archival professional quality paper and inks.

This project originated when I decided to give up some of the control of my art process and incorporate information about who someone is into the final work. I believe this process allowed for a sense of intimacy to develop between the work and its owner.

Going forward it will become important to check in with the owners and determine if after a period of time, they still feel close to the work or look at it with a sense of intimacy. I am curious to determine just how long lasting the connection might be or if it will fade away gradually with the passing of time.

This series is one exploration of incorporating life and vitality into digital art. I intend to create conversations around this idea by continuing to develop works and projects in which I allow others to influence my process with the hope that the results become a visual interpretation of me, my work, and the people I work with.