To Jan and Danny


The relationship between artist and computer is important both to people in the arts and sciences and to society as a whole. The union of art and science in computer art is reflective of the times in which we live. Ours is a technological society, one which demands interdisciplinary approaches to problems. Our lives are closely linked to one another. Therefore, we must communicate.

Assumptions about computer art are varied. They range from the naive belief that computers will take the place of human artists to the more sophisticated belief that soon the Leonardo of computer art will come. This person would be scientist, programmer, humanist, and artist—the true universal person. Computer art challenges our traditional beliefs about art: how art is made, who makes it, and what is the role of the artist in society.

The general public, and the artist in particular, have been conditioned to react negatively to computers. The uninitiated artist asks: what can this machine do for me? Really, the question should be: what can I do with this machine? The computer can function for the artist at many different levels. The artist has only to choose what role he/she wishes the computer to play. Apart from producing finished pieces of artwork, as William Kolomyjec does, one may simply allow the computer to function as an idea machine. This is evidenced in several articles. Karen Huff, for example, describes how the computer is used to visualize fabric before it is actually woven. As opposed to weaving on graph paper by hand, the computer removes the automatic color preference found in that traditional method. Moreover, by studying computer illustrations the softening of contours, which was seen only after a weaving was removed from the loom, can now be predicted.

Another artist, Robert Mallary, describes how he uses the machine to create new artforms by means of new programs. He creates sculpture with his program Tran 2 and graphics with GRAF/D and TRPL. A 3-dimensional program called SHAPE 3/D is used as a tool in research of aesthetics and art theory. Moreover, he is involved in using the computer to simulate and make decisions on land use and design. Another approach is found in the route Joseph Scala describes. He is experimenting and creating works of art with programs that already exist.

There are vast areas and levels of exploration available to the artist. The computer helps the artist to perceive in a new way. Its features blend with those of its user to form a new type of art. The combination of artist and oil paint is, for example, a different statement than that same artist and watercolors. The medium changes the statement. The artist now goes to an art supply store to purchase a given set of tools, whereas the computer artist can create the tools he will use. This is remarkable and allows for unlimited possibilities in the art to be created. Every program functions as a new set of tools. The type and quality of work produced on the computer depend both on the artist who uses the machine and the program.

Works produced on the computer do not have a unique style. It is difficult, at best, to identify a piece of art as having been created with the aid of a computer. Many of these styles existed independently of the computer. Perhaps if the machine had been available at the inception of these styles, they would have been explored more thoroughly. I found it very amusing to read in the exhibition catalogue 'PAINTING: NEW OPTIONS' at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1972:

Jennifer Bartlett's first gridworks were series of numbers drawn on graph paper, that indispensable work surface of the conceptual artist of the 1960s. She found that by substituting colored dots for the numbers, she could transform her mathematical sequences into visually independent forms. The enameled steel plates of her present work, elegantly custom-made to the artist's specifications, have gridworks of 2304 tiny squares within which the artist paints her pointillist dot patterns. Installed on a wall in rows, these modular plates become miniature panel paintings that explore variations on certain mathematical-graphic themes. Some rows establish an almost cinematic narrative of visual events; others form continuous patterns that, at a distance, have a brilliant optical effect. Though Bartlett consciously avoids painterly processes, her art is a mixture of visual improvisation and preconceived formulae. A plate often begins with an arbitrary unit, such as the continuous black border, or a single random dot; a quasi-mathematical system dictates the rest, and in the modular works this same system carries over from plate to plate. In SERIES VIII, a 36-plate work, the first plate's design was generated by an isolated white dot, followed by white and yellow, followed by white, yellow, and red, and so forth. The second plate retains this formula for color sequence, but begins with a yellow dot. The parabola pattern that appears on each plate of the set is not the product of a mathematical equation [Bartlett does not work with computer-produced graphics] but is the result of the additive dot-by-dot system she selects.

The explanation of her work only made me think how inappropriate it was not to have used a computer. Furthermore, in the same catalogue we find an example of modular art in Sol LeWitt's wall drawings. His work parallels that of Barbadillo. Modular art is an approach often used in computer art. However, in this case no mention is made of computers. It is obvious that people at Walker Art Center have a stereotype image of computer art. Actually, there is no such thing as 'computer art'!

Different artists use the machine in different ways to produce different types of art. Edward Ihnatowicz is deeply interested in artificial intelligence and uses this approach in creating cybernetic sculpture. Aaron Marcus' work shows his interest in concrete poetry. He creates picture environments and his poem drawings give new meaning and depth to words. Duane Palyka uses a color television monitor attached to a computer system and paints pictures in an unprecedented manner. The Bangerts' drawings appear hand-made. Aldo Giorgini's moire patterns have the look of optical art. Each takes advantage of different features offered by the computer.

I have been lecturing to groups of adults and students in the last few years, both on my own work and on computer art in general. These groups have included students of art, art history, computer science, futuristics, etc. I found that irrespective of background, questions concerning motivation were repeatedly asked. I had been thinking about the answers to these questions for some time. When Dave Ahl asked me to put together a special edition of Creative Computing magazine devoted to computer art, I felt that this would be an ideal opportunity to discover how other computer artists would respond to these questions. I was curious to see if they shared my feelings. Since previous books on computer art had only documented the state of the art, I felt that now it would be interesting to have the artists discuss their art with regard to these questions:

Some of the authors address the questions in their articles; some do not. Many of the papers are purely statements about the artist's work. Just as the artists' artwork differs, so do their papers. It is important for artists to be able to discuss their work in their own words. Therefore, the papers in this book are presented with a minimum of editing.

I am grateful to all who submitted manuscripts for this book. Each contribution helps clarify the relationship between artist and computer.

Ruth Leavitt
Minneapolis, Minnesota
February 1976

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