Art and Artificial Life

By Mitchell Whitelaw

The first detailed examination of a-life art, where new media artists adopt, and adapt, techniques from artificial life.





The first detailed examination of a-life art, where new media artists adopt, and adapt, techniques from artificial life.

Artificial life, or a-life, is an interdisciplinary science focused on artificial systems that mimic the properties of living systems. In the 1990s, new media artists began appropriating and adapting the techniques of a-life science to create a-life art; Mitchell Whitelaw's Metacreation is the first detailed critical account of this new field of creative practice.

A-life art responds to the increasing technologization of living matter by creating works that seem to mutate, evolve, and respond with a life of their own. Pursuing a-life's promise of emergence, these artists produce not only artworks, but generative and creative processes: here creation becomes metacreation.Whitelaw presents a-life art practice through four of its characteristic techniques and tendencies. "Breeders" use artificial evolution to generate images and forms, in the process altering the artist's creative agency. "Cybernatures" form complex, interactive systems, drawing the audience into artificial ecosystems. Other artists work in "Hardware," adapting Rodney Brooks's "bottom-up" robotics to create embodied autonomous agencies. The "Abstract Machines" of a-life art de-emphasize the biological analogy, using techniques such as cellular automata to investigate pattern, form and morphogenesis.In the book's concluding chapters, Whitelaw surveys the theoretical discourses around a-life art, before finally examining emergence, a concept central to a-life, and key, it is argued, to a-life art.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262232340 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 34 b&w illus.


$20.00 X ISBN: 9780262731768 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 34 b&w illus.


  • A detailed and wide ranging view of artificial life (a-life) in art.

    Real Time


  • Blending a secret history of one of the more obscure intersections of science and art with a thoughtful critique of artificial life's techno-bestiary, Mitchell Whitelaw's Metacreation is rigorous yet playful, like much of the groundbreaking work he so ably discusses.

    Peter Lunenfeld

    Media Design Program, Art Center College of Design, and author of User: InfoTechnoDemo

  • Provacative, literate, subtle and knowledgeable: Mitchell Whitelaw tells us what the new media artists have done—and why. His book's not about gizmos. It's about artists' meditations on the nature of life.

    Margaret A. Boden

    Research Professor of Cognitive Science, University of Sussex, author of The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms

  • The search to understand and create artificial life is one of the grand interdisciplinary quests of our times, stretching from art through compute science to biology. Mitchell Whitelaw's Metacreations is its most complete study yet—cataloguing the full range of research, exploring the underlying science and art, and offering theoretical tools to understand the cultural contexts of these inquiries.

    Stephen Willson

    Professor of Conceptual and Information Arts, San Francisco State University, and author of Information Arts