aleatory and aleatoric - Composition depending upon chance, random accident, or highly improvisational execution, typically hoping to attain freedom from the past, from academic formulas, and the limitations placed on imagination by the conscious mind. There is a tradition of Japanese and Chinese artists employing aleatoric methods, many influenced by Taoism and Zen Buddhism. In the west, precedents can be found among artists of ancient Greece, and later among artists of the Italian Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519) recommended looking at blotches on walls as a means of initiating artistic ideas. Aleatory was also employed by numerous twentieth century avant-garde artists. Followers of the Dada and Surrealism produced numerous examples. Jean Arp (French, 1887-1966) made collages by dropping small pieces of paper onto a larger piece, then adhering them where they landed. André Masson (French, 1896-1987) and Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983) allowed their pens to wander over sheets of paper in the belief that they would discover in those doodles the ghosts of their repressed imaginations. Similarly, Tristan Tzara (Romanian, 1896-1963) created poetry by selecting sentences from newspapers entirely by chance.
In music, the major exponent of aleatory was John Cage (American, 1912-1992), who sometimes composed by using dice, and also with a randomizing computer program.
Jean (Hans) Arp (French, born in Germany, 1886-1966), Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916-17, torn-and-pasted papers on gray paper, 19 1/8 x 13 5/8 inches (48.6 x 34.6 cm), Museum of Modern Art, NY. See collage and Dada.
Jean (Hans) Arp, Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1917, cut-and-pasted paper, ink, gouache, and bronze paint on colored paper, 13 1/8 x 10 1/4 inches (33.2 x 25.9 cm), Museum of Modern Art, NY.
John Cage, Water Music, 1952, India ink on paper; 10 sheets, 11 x 17 inches (27.9 x 43.2 cm) each, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. This musical composition was based on aleatoric operations with random sounds. The score for the piece (a photo of which is linked to at the title) requires a performer to: pour water from one receptacle to another, slam a keyboard lid shut, shuffle a deck of cards and deal seven into the piano strings, and blow a duck whistle into a bowl of water (as long as breath holds). Cage's use of ambient sound in his work parallels the use of found objects by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-) during the same period. (See Pop Art.) Rauschenberg's white paintings inspired one of Cage's most famous compositions, made in 1952, 4' 33", during which a pianist sits at a piano, opens and closes the lid between each of three movements, and then exits the stage in silence. His experimental approach derived in part from Zen, a philosophy that values chance over structured sequence, and he once described the evolution of his work as moving "from structure to process, from music as an object having parts, to music without beginning, middle, or end, music as weather." Cage's revolutionary work influenced generations of American artists, with a wide-reaching impact similar to that of Jackson Pollock's action paintings. Also see zip.
Also see accident, accidental, automata, automatism, blot, blotto painting, collage, exquisite corpse, mobile, montage, Rorschach test, and Japanese suiseki or Chinese scholars' rocks.