"The art of any period is the result of the background factors of that age plus the personalities of its creative artists."—Bernard Myers ..Modern Art In The Making

I, Lillian Schwartz, (1927-...) am a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and a graduate of the College of Nursing & Health of the University of Cincinnati.

I studied free-hand drawing at the University in 1948–1949, oil painting in St. Louis, Missouri, watercolors and woodcuts in Fukuoka, Japan and finally came to the New York area in the 50's and continued to study art.

An intense interest in new materials and its effects on continued stimulus to the creative process during the growth of a work of art led me to be aware of and to incorporate existing technology into my work.

I met and began working with Ken Knowlton, a computer scientist, in 1969, following the 'MACHINE' exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The international organization of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) was founded "to try to establish a better working relationship among artists, engineers and industry."

In line with that purpose E.A.T. agreed to arrange a competition in connection with the 'MACHINE' exhibit. About 200 works were submitted. Of these, nine works were selected by Pontus Hulten, the director of the show, for inclusion in the exhibition.

My sculpture 'Proxima Centauri' and 'Studies in Perception 1,' a graphic, by Harmon and Knowlton were two of the exhibits.

The show catalogue describes 'Proxima Centauri' as, "Changing patterns appear on the surface of a white translucent dome, which at times seem to become a gelatinous mass that shakes, breathes, and then returns to still images. As the spectator approaches the sculpture, the dome throws off a red glow while slowly sinking into the base and thus inviting the viewer to come still closer to observe this phenomenon. The dome is now resting inside the base. Peering down into the rectangle, the viewer sees the spectacle of a series of abstract pictures focused on the globe..."

The catalogue writes about 'Studies in Perception 1' ... "Computer graphics were created for utilitarian purposes. Among the uses are to study the field of view seen from the pilot's seat in an airplane, or to analyze a flat image in order to manipulate graphic data. The characteristics of the computer at the moment are strikingly shown in 'computer art.' The computer can act as an intelligent being: process information, obey intricate rules, manipulate symbols, and even learn by experience. But since it is not capable of initiating concepts, it cannot be truly creative; it has no access to imagination, intuition, and emotion." The last sentence can be applied to any medium but the previous sentence describes a medium that can process information, obey rules, and even learn by experience!

The awesomeness of such a tool places the artist in quite a humble position. There is a necessary kind of readjustment for the artist for here is a medium that may take some of the burdens from the artist. To find the real justification for the use of the computer by a painter would be to shift the emphasis by stimulating a new angle of approach; to may be relieve the formal elements of some of the conscious emphases which are necessary and place more stress on content.

With such a medium we now have the means of displaying, in its constituent parts, images which possess simultaneously a number of dimensions.

To handle such a tool I find it necessary to break down these specific dimensions.

First, there are the more or less limited formal factors, such as line, tone value, and color. And, secondly, if the computer is used in filmmaking a knowledge of the craft of film.

As an example, when the artist considers line it is usually thought of as being a matter of simple properties such as length, angles, focal distance, and thickness. But measuring the characteristics of line by using a computer is of quite a different nature.

The associative properties once used by the non-computer artist no longer correspond to the direct will of the artist.

To perform the simple act of drawing a line over a page, exerting pressure on the pencil, charcoal or other instrument to change the thickness of the line or the direction becomes a major task in programming.

All rules concerning the use of the line must be well thought out in advance. With proper flexibility in a program one can accept or reject. The rewards eventually come when these lines can be positioned as desired. The artist can then contemplate the positions of these lines as drawn with any other medium but—with the computer an instruction can rotate the lines, join them, multiply them, or whatever instruction has been previously built into the program.

From this point, given mastery of the medium, the structure can be assured foundations of such strength that it is able to reach out into dimensions far removed from one's expectations.

It is no easy task for the artist to live with too much freedom in her medium. Great care must be given to the selectivity of these elements. Speaking from my own experience, it depends on my mood at the time of editing images into their final film form that decisions as to which of the many elements are brought out of their general order, out of their appointed array, and raised together to a new order and form. It seems clearer that the results of this medium may well fall into direct ascendancy of the hieratic forms of Seurat and the mosaics of Byzantium. The artists in India also worked from set Sudras. Even among the more recent artists Delacroix, Cezanne, and Matisse, the same desire for system and regularity for an ordered universe seem to dominate.


"Night Scene" Computer-generated etched aluminum plate. Copyright © 1975/2004 Lillian F. Schwartz courtesy of the Lillian Feldman Schwartz Collection, Ohio State University Library and Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Artists must express their own creative character in the technology of their era in order to find their own historical and individual level.

The computer has also assisted me in the visualization of sculpture in three dimensions. Programs can be used to rotate sculptures, to view them stereoscopically, to place in a given site—all before any execution has taken place.

For the artist newly exposed to using the computer it is not unlike Stephen Leacock's hero, who jumped to his horse and dashed madly off in all directions.

Watchung, New Jersey
November 1975

Lillian Schwartz's web site

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