Seeing Order in Chaos: Randomness and chance in art

The second York Festival of Ideas event I went to was Seeing Order in Chaos: Randomness and chance in art:

Randomness and chance seem to play an important role in art, particularly painting and drawing. An oil painting, when looked at closely, appears to be nothing but a random collection of coloured marks, but these resolve themselves into an image as we move away from the painting. It is this very randomness which sometimes gives the painting life and distinguishes it from a photograph, though the random element may not be visible to the viewer.

The artist achieves this by clever brushwork or by starting with a random pattern and them seeing the image in the chaos of marks, a method actually recommended by Leonardo da Vinci. Some of the best examples of this are from early cave art where the artist has seen the image, for example a horse, in the cracks and stains of the rock and then simply emphasised them. Another source of randomness is the so-called happy accident, where a slip of the brush produces a random but interesting mark.

In this illustrated talk, artists and mathematician, Malcolm Ludvigsen, will discuss the random and chaotic element in art from the point of view of both a scientist and a painter. In particular we shall take a sceptical look at the possible use of the concept of entropy in art, and whether fractals and so-called chaos theory can play useful and meaningful role.

Being a mathematician, this talk had a lot of interesting aspects and really got my head sparking with ideas.  Hopefully when I start to recover my brain and with it my ability to think, understand and be more creative, I’ll be able to turn these sparks into something tangible.


Cloud edges

Coast lines

Ferns, lungs

Nature’s magic

Harnesses mathematical



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