Tropism with Neel Shivdasani (Elated Pixelations Interview #3)
Neel's Art Blocks debut already shows mastery.
A couple of months ago, December 2021, Neel Shivdasani's debut generative art collection of 500 pieces, Tropism, dropped on Art Blocks. An AB enthusiast (and critic), I immediately recognized the collection as having classic Art Blocks appeal, but with a wildness rarely seen on the platform. It's as if Neel's brainchild was born both gentleman and wild-eyed rebel. Of course you'll have to peruse the collection for yourself. And I strongly, strongly suggest that you at least skim through Neel's notes on Tropism. It will make the following interview much more enjoyable. There, Neel is so descriptive of his process that I didn't ask him anything about that during this interview. Because of that, our talk ventured more into the abstract, all the way to music and back. So look at a few or many Tropisms, check out Neel's notes, and come back here ready to hear from the man himself about his debut *masterpiece...enjoy!
*No flattery here. If I say masterpiece, I mean that.
Neel, I understand you have a strong background in math and computer science. Would you say interest in these fields is absolutely necessary to the production of quality gen art?
I don't think that a background in math or computer science is required, but an interest in learning them can go a long way. Most generative art is, after all, made using computers and some math/code. I've seen people from a wide variety of backgrounds learn enough to create interesting and unique art, though. It's also possible to make generative art without computers at all. Generative art is really just a way of letting some kind of process that is out of your control do some of the work.
Have 'fast food' gen art production programs been devised as the genre becomes more popular, or is the 'hard' way - line by line of code - the only way to make generative art?
There are programs and frameworks that people can use to make generative art without writing any code, if that's what you mean by 'fast food'. As I mentioned before, you don't actually need computers to make generative art. And if you do use a computer to make art, you don't need to write code. I think writing the code yourself can help you get more unique outputs, but I also think that using a no-code environment can help you explore a lot of concepts really quickly.
You say you were an avid observer of the generative art scene before participating. Did you derive any inspiration from pre-NFT digital art, such as artists on the Deviant Art platform?
The vast majority of the history of computerized generative art occurred before NFTs were popularized. My primary inspiration for starting generative art was artists like Anders Hof and Tyler Hobbs, and that inspiration occurred before NFTs became a thing. I was never a big Deviant Art fan, but I know there are tons of great artists out there. I'm also inspired a lot by non-digital art, including Frank Stella, Dorothy Napangardi, Julie Mehretu, Walter de Maria, Tadao Ando, and Takariho Kurashima. Nature is also a constant inspiration.
Was there pre-computer generative art?
Oh, absolutely. A bunch of strings hanging in the wind can be considered generative art, if it is done in a particularly interesting way. The wind is totally out of your control, and it can create beautiful patterns. A lot of the computerized generative art out there attempts to capture the essence of a natural system like that. Nature is generative art.
Great response, and good for people to know! One of my goals is to present information in a way so that aspiring artists are encouraged to explore and create, rather than sit, ogle, and idolize. Nature being generative is obvious, but for many people, only after that fact has been presented. You mentioned many artists just now [see above]. Please pick one of those names and elaborate...
I find artists like that by visiting art museums as often as possible. Any time I travel, really. I saw Dorothy Napangardi's work at SAM, the Seattle Art Museum. She was an aboriginal artist from Australia.
I think people might be shocked at how similar her artwork looks to a lot of code-based generative art that is based on flow fields [Tyler Hobbs' iconic gen-art masterpiece, Fidenza, is based on the same]. It often features a lot of small irregular spots flowing in lines and shapes. I guess it's a bit hard to describe, but you'll know it when you see it.
Neel, when you create is it vision to code, or vice versa?
Honestly, it's tough to even say if it is primarily one or the other, because they both play a role. I think it starts with an idea in my head. Then, when I try to code it, the code usually has something else that it wants to do, so then I let that happen, then try to steer it towards a new idea in my head...then the code takes it to a new place, and it goes back and forth.
Wow you actually put into words just now something that is very hard to verbalize. That's the process. I'm a musician and it's the same. I'm sure thousands would say they experience the same thing.
Nice! What do you play?
So I've played the drums on and off for around 20 years now on and off - meaning sometimes I don't play the kit for a while - but I still feel and think like a drummer.
Cool! So gen art fascinates me as a musician because of the fragmented nature, repetition, metamorphosis, etc. We literally have 'fractals' in music (especially among the Jazz crowd). And obviously math has played a huge part in musical composition and analysis (Bach for example). Schoenberg's Atonal style is essentially music from math, literally (to varied reception lol).
OK Back to you, Neel.
What do you think of Matt Kane's Right Place Right Time artwork? Personally I am amazed at the use of art as a real-time reflection of something else, in that case the price of BTC I believe [artist Matt Kane is covered in another EP article].
I think it's interesting. I hadn't seen it before. There are some really cool textures going on here, and it definitely has an interesting conceptual angle.
To me Right Place Right Time points toward a horizon - a very near one - with robust art, full of possibilities and limited only by exponentially advancing technology!
Yeah, I can understand that.
Ok so let's combine the two themes [art and music] that have spontaneously developed here: as a drummer, do you feel your advanced rhythmic sense plays a part in your art?
Hmm. I don't know that it really does, though I did spend a good amount of time writing a java/processing framework for creating interactive and looping visuals. I do think my interest in music has had a large effect on my art, though in a lot of ways, I think of a song as taking you to a place. Some musicians might take you to a place that is kind of familiar, but I tend to prefer musicians who take me to a place I've never been before, with their atmospheres and textures. [So] in many ways I think of art as doing the same thing.
Well Tropism certainly takes its audience to new, previously unseen places. In general, I'd say art has a rhythm to it, especially animated art.
Art can mentally take you to a new place, and a really skilled artist can take you [somewhere] you could never have even imagined. For sure, art definitely has rhythm. I just don't know that the concept of rhythm I employ in drumming has really impacted the rhythm of my art.
As a musician, I would say there is a direct transfer [musical rhythm to visual rhythm], but it's subtle and most readily expressed / witnessed in animated art where there literally is a rhythm being generated by a loop or some recurring or non-recurring motion. Neel what do you think?
...My animated works focus on loops, and there isn't necessarily any intentional subdivision within those loops. Outside of the one rhythmic looping framework I made (you can find it on my instagram), I'd say tempo plays a role in those loops, but I consider that functionally different from both rhythm and visual rhythm.
Ok ok I'll drop that beat lol.
Haha. Maybe my art would benefit if I did intentionally incorporate the concepts of rhythm and syncopation from my drumming...
Well we're just tossing around concepts, for future experimentation perhaps. And with that I have to show off my Tropisms. Here we are:
Those are great! I truly appreciate the support. You got a nice variety there!
So I got 204 first after return visits to the market, seeing that people kept missing it, Or it was just meant for me lol. Art Blocks has been in 'yard sale' mode for many months now....painful for holders (self included) to see 10x drops on older pieces like Ecumenopolis, etc., but I couldn't have grown my collection any other way.
Yeah, it's a very interesting market.
After 204 I got 231. I kept going back to see what gems were on the 'floor'. Then I saw 146. A nice variety, like you said. The fact that Tropism is your debut is stunning.
Thank you! I did have some 1:1 stuff before that on Foundation, but on-chain work seems like the natural evolution of the type of art I make.
Again, no flattery. Tropism is fully mature. Your notes were great in helping me to understand and appreciate the collection even more.
Glad you found that useful honestly, it was useful for me as well.
Yeah in my opinion anything that helps us to appreciate others' work, emotions, etc - as well as your own - is golden. This life is the TV show we are forced to binge lol
Neel, what are some of the more far-out 'use cases' you can imagine for generative art? Algorithmic stablecoins functioning as Holographic NFTs? Tropism as a P2E game? Imagine running around in #146? lol
...I suspect there are quite a lot of potential revolutionary use cases for non-art NFTs. So it's kind of funny that art is what the average non-crypto person [relates to] with NFTs.
I know it sounded funny - and it is - but I was serious about the holographic algorithmic stablecoin. I think ppl would pay more attn to their finances if they were interestingly visible. Like instead of staring at green / red Japanese candlesticks on a chart (boring for most) we can walk into a room in the house / apt. with artistic renditions of the asset. Art being used as the lure. Could work for our kids' homework, a lot of stuff!
Yeah, that's an interesting thought. It kind of blurs the line between data visualization and art, which is already a blurry line to begin with. Personally, I'd want my own art to really stand on its own. In much the same way that some music could be considered "functional music," or music that is meant to fulfill a specific task, I suppose that there can be functional art. [However] the only real objective I have in mind for art is for it to be visually interesting.
(Neel) I wonder, if art was used to convey meaningful information, could it be viewed as a distraction from the information?
For me that depends on the observer.
True. I've considered building a physical piece of art in my house that is computer - driven and also conveys information. But in any version of that in my head, the information it conveys is entirely secondary to the visual interest of the art itself. As a creator, I only have one objective. I can't control what the observer gets out of it but I don't suspect they can get data visualization if I didn't put it there, right?
That's a great challenge, Neel! I think balance is the solution there. For example, old music theory treatises were ornate and visually appealing as per the style of those periods (Renaissance, etc.). But it was understood that the main meal was the musical instruction. Any student caught ogling the ornamental sides of pages would have been verbally blasted for sure.
My final Q4U: What are some thoughts you'd like to share regarding your next project and how the creation / reception of Tropism affects (or doesn't affect) that?
*That's a great question! The reception that Tropism received was much better than I expected. There are a lot of artists out there doing good work, and I'm honored that people enjoyed and wanted to support my work. I think I was looking at that project for so long that I took for granted the things I did well, and instead focused on the things that I wish had evolved even further. As for my next project, I just know that I want to achieve an even more interesting and unique result, and I want to try to come up with more varied compositions and textures and perhaps a stronger concept.
*Neel really did like this question and really did say that. Interview skills.
And a great closing answer to our chat. TY for your time and consideration Neel!
...And that wraps up this interview with Neel Shivdasani on Elated Pixelations. His complete Tropisms collection can be seen on the Art Blocks website.
Though I showed off my Tropisms earlier, that act didn't satisfy this publication's self-made requirement to perpetually present art at the end. So, here's