Ed Cavett Interview

“Welcome #13” by Ed Cavett

Who are you?

I’m a 52-year-old, outsider artist. I was raised in the Midwest (Iowa, Illinois and Missouri area). I showed a lot of talent at a young age, so I was encouraged to pursue art (which was something that I enjoyed doing). I’m on the Autism Spectrum, so much of my childhood was spent doing solitary activities, like drawing and sculpting. In the early 70’s, very little was known about ASD (autism spectrum disorder), so my condition went undiagnosed for over 40 years. Because many of the artists I admired were solitary and peculiar, I accepted my ASD symptoms as the quirks of being an artist. The truth was that my ASD symptoms had contributed tremendously to my creative and imaginative abilities. One of my most valuable symptoms (for lack of a better term) is low perceptual predictiveness. For neurotypical people, their brains are really good at precisely seeing what is before their eyes. For me, I see a range of things, then I make my best guess what it is. This lets me see structures in random patterns that others would normally miss. It makes reading difficult, but that was a fair trade off, I think.

Today, I live in southern Oregon. I sell practical art to friends and established collectors. I also create generative art and NFTs that I publish on fxhash. My NFT content has slowed down since the market crash. I still make generative art as a hobby.

According to your FxHash bio, you have been making generative art since 1984? Could you tell us more about that?

Because of my condition with ASD, I was fairly reclusive (and I still am). In the early 80’s, home computing was just becoming a thing. At 9 years old, I used a computer for the first time. By the age of 15, I was programming an Apple ][e using Applesoft BASIC. At that time, the term “generative art” had scarcely been coined. The only people creating generative-style programs were at universities, not at a junior high in a high school with less than 200 students. So, I taught myself how to make art using patterns found in math formulas. This was all I knew about generative art (which I called kinetic art, at the time). It was fun and interesting, but as a means of making a living, it had no practical value. For the most part, generative art had always been something of a novelty; a mathematical tchotchke.

I went to college to learn more about making art using computer programming, but the computer courses were all business oriented. I found the work boring and uninspiring, so I dropped out. I would go back to earn a degree in business, but art was something I didn’t need formal instruction to do. Consequently, I’ve never had a formal art class in my entire life.

“Indicator #4” by Ed Cavett

Fast forward to the advent of NFTs: I had been making visualizations using an Applesoft emulator for a few years when I heard about NFTs. I knew I’d have to learn another programming language to make them, so I taught myself how to program in p5.js. I say I taught myself, but really I learned from people who were doing tutorials on the internet–like David Shiffman. As I was learning, I shared my work on Facebook. It started getting some attention, until someone said that it would make a good NFT. That’s when I joined fxhash.

How interesting has it been seeing the generative art scene grow since you have begun?

It’s been a dream come true in a lot of ways. What was once the work of unknown geeks and nerds was gaining mainstream attention from well-known geeks and nerds. I knew when I first started making generative art that the main barriers were access to easy programming tools, a powerful machine to run them, and a way to distribute or show off one’s work. Once these three things happened, I knew that it would grow quickly. http://Processing.org and the Processing Community have been instrumental in making programming an easy artistic medium, and I couldn’t be happier! When NFTs were first introduced, my brain exploded. It’s not often that an artist gets to be so close to a new movement in art. Since I had been making generative art for decades, I knew I had a unique perspective to offer in terms of differentiating myself as a generative artist.

How did you hear about FxHash?

I had been publishing my generative art on a FB community (Coding in Processing and p5.js), when I started seeing posts pointing to artists’ NFTs on sites, like OpenSea and ArtBlocks. The frequency of this had been rising, until a friend from the community suggested I give fxhash a try. I wasn’t that excited about it because of how crazy the publishing process is for ArtBlocks and the “gas” scheme on OpenSea. It seemed like too much of a pain to get started, and there was an opportunity that I’d lose money. Nonetheless, my friend convinced me to check it out. He said he’d walk me through anything I didn’t understand–which was a lot. After spending the better part of a day setting up everything I needed, he gave me some Tezos, and I was off and running.

“Cliques #16” by Ed Cavett

I spent about three days studying the art on fxhash. I was drowning in inspiration. After seeing what other artists were doing compared to what I was making, I spent a week coding my first work.

“Florasphere1” was your genesis work. Could you tell us more about it?

By the time I made “Florasphere1”, I had been learning p5.js for about 2 years or so. As I was learning it, I shared my progress on YouTube. From those videos, you can see the pieces of “Florasphere1” coming together. For about six months prior, I had been making generative art specifically to convert into NFTs at some point. So, when I was ready to jump into the NFT fray, I already had dozens of works to post.

Nature has always been my subject of choice as an artist. I had been sketching landscapes in ink for a few decades when I took up coding in p5.js. My goal from the beginning was to make generative landscapes, so “Florasphere1” was just a realization of that goal.

“Florasphere1 #25” by Ed Cavett

When I published my first NFT, I didn’t understand a lot of the requirements. Collectors of “Florasphere1” will notice that it’s not deterministic across all viewing dimensions. In the code, I set the viewing size to be adjustable, but the randomness was relational to the size of the canvas, so changing the size of the view changed the randomness. This was a big no-no, but not a complete disaster. To make things a little worse, I didn’t know enough about scripting to center the work in the browser and change the background color. I got help with this early on, so most of my work includes these finer touches.

What inspires you to create with code?

The first video game I ever saw was Pong. One game. One giant console that ran on a TV. I was 6 years old. It blew my mind. In a few years, Atari was in every home, and video arcades were filled with pre-teens ladened with quarters. I was one of those kids that spent hours playing PacMac, Space Invaders and Galaxian on a giant, standup video game. I wasn’t satisfied with just playing video games. I wanted to make video games. I took my first programming class in junior high. I out-learned the teacher, so my school principal set up an independent course study so I could continue to learn programming without an instructor. I taught myself everything I could learn. At the end of the course, I wrote a program that stored phone numbers, addresses and contact information for all the high school students–that was my final exam. After all of that, it was clear to me that I had a passion for programming that wouldn’t go away even when the changes in technology meant having to relearn how to program in a different language every few years.

I’m known for some origami art that I do, called tessellations. I had been making these for decades. While working with tessellations, it became apparent how much of the natural world is described using mathematical formulas. From this, I started studying fractal geometry and the formulas associated with that. Programming was the most practical tool for exploring these ideas as a means of artistic expression, so coding was just another way of exploring art.

“Alien Landscape #14” by Ed Cavett

You have a very distinct style with your works and generally create scenic pieces. What made you choose this?

There is an interesting contrast between the uniformity of mathematical geometry and the chaoticness of organic forms. Yet, organic forms are just a complex of mathematical geometry. Coaxing the organic form from math is truly magical to me. When I can get it to happen convincingly, I feel like I’ve discovered some underlying secret to the nature of reality–like a whisper from God.

“Thunderstorm #6” by Ed Cavett

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to learn more about generative art and creative coding?

There’s never been an easier time to learn than now. There are many options to choose from. The languages are more user-friendly now, so coders don’t have to know as much math to accomplish tasks. And, there are online resources that can walk anyone through the steps for creating just about anything you can imagine.

Practice, practice, practice. Take some simple procedure, and make it do as much as you can possibly think of. Learn from others. Keep in mind there are many ways to accomplish a programming task, so don’t get locked into believing one is better than another. Don’t be discouraged by roadblocks. Take some time away; think about something else; then try again.

Why do you make art with code?

Some artistic goals are impractical to do without a computer. The speed, precision and autonomy a computer provides is unmatched in any other media. One of my first projects when learning to code was a Sierpinski Triangle. This can be done practically, but it would take all day. Using a computer, I can see the results in seconds. With this kind of performance as a creative option, it opens another door to a world of expressive possibilities. Coding provides many more ways to express myself that would be impractical or impossible otherwise.

“Sequoias #6” by Ed Cavett

You have a YouTube channel. Could you tell us more about it?

My channel is called Draw Make & Code. It started as just an art channel where I showcased some speed-drawing using a dry-erase board. After getting bored with that, I added Makes to the content, and started showcasing other art projects, like ink sketching, painting, sculpting and model-making. Finally, I started coding generative art, so I shared my progress with learning to code. I have some news and political content that I added during the pandemic. It’s still on my channel, but most of the content is art related.

For the last year or so, I haven’t been uploading content. It’s challenging to produce content, and the algorithm makes it impossible to get that content shared enough to make it worth my time. Instead, I’ve been writing and working on other projects offline.

What are your plans for this year?

I’m in the process of writing a sci-fi novel centered around artificial intelligence. I’ve been working on the idea for a couple years, and have just now started the actual writing part. It’s more of a personal project than a commercial one. However, if it’s well-received, I’ll pursue publishing it.

“Code Gremlin #4” by Ed Cavett

Is there anyone you want to shout out?

Yeah. My friend, Julian Puppo (Jpupper). He encouraged me and helped me publish my first generative art on fxhash. You can find his work there, too.

Anything else?

Thank you, again, for the interest in my work. And, thanks for supporting generative art and artists. While I’m a bit of an edge-case, I hope I’m still able to inspire people to take on that thing that challenges them. Remember that many small steps can take you a mile, and anything worth doing is going to be hard.

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