5 Of Diamonds: Randomness in Art (A Potential Starter)

(I’ve had like 5 posts staring at me from the back burner for weeks now. Let’s see if I can get any kind of momentum rolling with some shorter posts. These potential starters are going to be thoughts I’ve had floating around recently. Research will be minimal, as the point is to document a starting point of my understanding of a topic that I haven’t had a chance to look at in detail).

Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged according to the Laws of Chance) Jean (Hans) Arp, 1917, Torn-and-pasted paper and colored paper on colored paper, 19 1/8 x 13 5/8″ (48.5 x 34.6 cm)

This is Squares Arranged According To The Laws Of Chance, a dadaist collage created by Jean Arp in 1917. It is the first of his chance collages, created by ripping coloured paper pieces into rough shapes and then dropping them from a height onto the backing, pasting them where they land to create a unique composition for the collage.

I’ve often used randomness as a prompt to begin a piece of art, mostly writing, to give myself something to go on rather than just a blank page, such as characters created from a couple of given traits, stories based in a particular genre that must include particular words, or even just constructing Jojo Stands by hitting random on the Superpowers wiki and a list of songs or album. Sometimes I use randomness in the opposite way, filling in details of characters or settings that don’t really matter for the role they are filling in the story, usually gender or ethnicity since my attempts at writing tend not to approach these directly. I guess you could also argue that roleplays are a collective story telling exercise which are steered by a degree of randomness from dice roles?

Actually yeah I think I am going to argue that, so throw roleplays and gamified story telling in general on that pile. [Entirely unrelated note to self: take the “Can games be art” discourse to the next level with “Is a given playthrough of a game art?”]

I don’t think this quite links into way elements of chance were used by dadaists. All my examples are more based around responding to randomness with the essentially the same toolbox as normal. responding to chance fairly rationally. Arp and other Dadaists were instead using randomness as a direct competator to rationality, challenging the idea that the world makes sense given the utter irrational monstrousness of World War I. I use randomness in my art as a starting point for a far more…I wanted to say rational but I think the word I’m actually looking for is “standard”. Maybe “normal”? “Boring” is probably too unfair to myself…a far more standard way. If I had to define my approach more firmly and possibly more fancily it would be that I use randomness to stimulate a world I need to respond to. It not only offers starting points for creation but limitations upon the work and upon myself, and that’s always been something I enjoy working with in art.


We live in an age of easily accessible pseudo randomness. Whether that’s easily purchasable dice or electronic random number generators, it is very easy to rapidly create a whole selection of pseudo-random(truly random) numbers, and I want to explore what we can do with that, whether in text, in interactive fiction, in games, in music or in visual art. So that’s the next step here.

Things I want to read up on:
– Historical uses of randomness in art (including Dada’s)
– Other chance collages
– What contemporary artists are doing with randomness in different mediums
– How else is randomness used in our society?
– Difference between random and chaotic
– the physical nature of randomness.

Things I want to do:
– Create my own chance collages
– Create some basic code to start drawing random pictures with shapes and lines, and generate lots and lots of images using it.
– Create some basic code to randomly disort and rearrange photos
– Create a piece of writing that, while the main structure remains constant, each time you reload it certain details are randomised.

I’ve actually already done a chance collage. While I was trying to pack up my flat and therefore instead started stress collaging, I covered a piece of black card in glue and dropped a load of scrap triangles on it. The results of this are shown below. It isn’t a particularly catching piece, the glue gives a notable shine and I think I dumped probably too many triangles for it to really work, but doing it did help me nail down an issue I have with Arp’s work above. When I dropped the triangles, a.) they landed in many different orintations and b.) the actual distribution wasn’t at all uniform but instead, as I dropped them above roughly the centre of the paper, so most triangles landed lying on top of each other; weighted randomness is a thing. The squares arranged according to the laws of chance above are all orientated in roughly the same way, and are nice and spread out across the background, just don’t look random to me, despite knowing that many pople have made this accussation before and that Arp has said he geniunely did just drop the pieces. Maybe he did it repeatedly and chose the best one, since it is a posssible result for randomly dropping the ripped squares, but I still kind of find it unlikely. Maybe that’s unfair.

Untitled (Triangles Glued Where They Fell), Mattilda, 2019, cut found paper on black paper, 210 x 297 mm

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