From the beginning the artist has incorporated current technology, whether it be paint formulae or casting alloys. It should be no wonder then, that with the advent of the computer, the artist would be among the first to find a way to utilize it as a new medium.
I questioned whether or not the art made through use of the computer followed contemporary works in other media. So I began a search for works of computer art made during the late 1960’s & 1970’s. At best, I was hoping to either find correlation to current art movements in regard to computer art, or some evidence the medium itself was dictating the style and content of the work produced on the computer.
I began by looking through all the mid-to-late twentieth century slides in the slide library in the Department of Art & Design, California State University, Fresno, where I am currently curator. I did find paintings reminiscent of computer generated art dating between 1965 and 1975, yet the software that would allow their execution had not been developed at that time. Digitized collages and other photo–manipulations currently popular on the computer were done with other materials as early as the 1940’s by artists such as Campendonk–the earliest period I surveyed. Works done in oil or acrylic often contained simple shapes and colors which could have been computer generated, but I found no evidence that those artists also worked on the computer. Examples of artists in this category are: Kay Sage, Babe Shapiro, Deborah Remington, Fra Roberto, and Larry Rivers. David Salle painted in the early 1990’s with what could be influence of the “Windows” atmosphere of the computer screen. Series of works consisted of changes of color themes of the same painting, resembling variations achieved on the computer.
An exception was Keith Haring, whose work in the collection was mostly large-scale murals and installations. However, some of the images were done on the Macintosh computer. I have enclosed two copies of these in this report. It is interesting that these slides were labeled “20th century painting“, so some of the slides of other artists so labeled could be done on the computer but there was no documentation.
David Hockney, who worked with technology in the form of copiers, fax machines and Polaroid cameras, only recently came to the computer as an alternative medium. None of his works in the collection are listed as computer–generated, however three works done in 1993 could have been done on the software of the day. His stage settings for Tristan and Isolde are illusionary space reminiscent of 3–D computer art.
I turned to archives of computer trade magazines dating from 1989 to 1995. Here were the artists dealing in utilizing the computer as a fine art medium. Section IV is an overview of some of the works created during this time.
I did not know what to expect regarding finding similarities in contemporary work done on the computer or in painting and printing. I did not know if an artist might test out the software to see what it would do, or try to make the software conform to preset ideas and techniques used in other media. What I had not considered until further thought and research was done, was that the computer convenience I had found since 1990 was non–existent 25 years before.
What I did find is summarized as follows:
1. The artist from the beginning has come to the media to explore, and with the mindset to tweak whatever can be obtained with the technology of the time.
2. The beginning was huge mainframe computers that had to be individually programmed to have any output at all, and consisting of a print done by a stylus moving along a drum.
3. The limits of the first computer work was line drawings in which every point had to be mathematically set on a punch card for the stylus to read.
4. The artist was also required to write the programs used for the art, or to rely on a programmer to meet the immediate software needs.
5. The artists at the beginning carried the time honored concepts of fine art into the computer, and taught others to do likewise.
6. As the computer progressed toward more complex programs and more user–friendly programs the scope of the art produced grew in proportion.