Computer art is any art in which computers play a role in production or display of the artwork. Such art can be an image, sound, animation, video, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, video game, website, algorithm, performance or gallery installation. Many traditional disciplines are now integrating digital technologies and, as a result, the lines between traditional works of art and new media works created using computers has been blurred. For instance, an artist may combine traditional painting with algorithm art and other digital techniques. As a result, defining computer art by its end product can thus be difficult. Computer art is bound to change over time since changes in technology and software directly affect what is possible.
Computational art, with a computer, started in the 1960s and incorporated programming techniques, based on the interest of plastic artists in relation to computer science, whose poetics is in line with the inventions and discoveries of science and technology of the 20th century. The artistic production of computational art finds moments of reference in the traditional field devoted to mathematics, optics and computer science, as well as in the new theories of art, cybernetics, communication and, particularly, in information theory, which developed through the reflections of important characters in the story, such as Paul Klee, Max Bense, Norbert Weiner, Abraham Moles, Umberto Eco, among others more contemporary.
In the 1960s, at the same time that theorists elaborated their theories often resulting from scientific and technological advances, the first graphic computer was created, created by K. Alsleben and W. Fetter, in Germany, as well as the first works appear of computer art, in 1965. The novelty about the “new images” that appeared on computers was more related to the way they were produced, to conceive creation, conservation, storage and distribution than to their poetic content. Initially it was about how the new images were created and not why. When the computer was invented, it was seen as a simple instrument. But it soon came to be defined as a medium, a medium, or rather, a real system that made a reinterpretation of the media known until then, adding new possibilities for the creation of the image.
The term “computer art”
On the title page of the magazine Computers and Automation, January 1963, Edmund Berkeley published a picture by Efraim Arazi from 1962, coining for it the term “computer art.” This picture inspired him to initiate the first Computer Art Contest in 1963. The annual contest was a key point in the development of computer art up to the year 1973.
From an artistic point of view, for the French theorist Frank Popper, artists who used the computer in the 1960s had the same aesthetic concerns as other contemporary artists, even though they were more involved with science and technology and influenced by the cyber model. On these issues, the author highlights two major trends: the one marked by the interest of artists in the creation processes more than in the product, which later converges to the concept of simulation, and the trend that sought the participation of the viewer in the work of art, which later becomes the concept of interaction.
When interested in the creation processes, the artists ask themselves about the way in which they happen – whether carried out by man or by the machine – and about the rules and laws that determine them. They seek to describe them, that is, to simulate the act of creation through programming language. The problem that arises at that moment, that of simulating the act of creation, is related to the determinism imposed by the development of calculus. The artists, for that, looked for resources that could make chance intervene in their works. The manipulation of chance seemed in a way to simulate freedom in creation. The exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968 in England, bringing together artists who worked with computers, he praised the creation processes based on random and unforeseen discoveries. Since chance is also formulated from mathematical formulas, the main interest is in statistical, probabilistic models. According to Edmond Couchot, a new aesthetic emerges based on the permutational and American aesthetic
Although the term may apply to works of art that were originally created using other media or scanned, it always refers to works of art that have been modified using computer programs.
At the moment, the concept of “computer graphics” includes as works of traditional art, transferred to a new environment, on a digital basis that mimics the original material medium (when, for example, a scanned or digital photograph is taken as the basis), or created originally using a computer, and fundamentally new types of works of art, the main environment for which is the computer environment.
The precursor of computer art dates back to 1956–1958, with the generation of what is probably the first image of a human being on a computer screen, a (George Petty-inspired) pin-up girl at a SAGE air defense installation. Desmond Paul Henry invented the Henry Drawing Machine in 1960; his work was shown at the Reid Gallery in London in 1962, after his machine-generated art won him the privilege of a one-man exhibition.
By the mid-1960s, most individuals involved in the creation of computer art were in fact engineers and scientists because they had access to the only computing resources available at university scientific research labs. Many artists tentatively began to explore the emerging computing technology for use as a creative tool. In the summer of 1962, A. Michael Noll programmed a digital computer at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey to generate visual patterns solely for artistic purposes. His later computer-generated patterns simulated paintings by Piet Mondrian and Bridget Riley and became classics. Noll also used the patterns to investigate aesthetic preferences in the mid-1960s.
The two early exhibitions of computer art were held in 1965: Generative Computergrafik, February 1965, at the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart, Germany, and Computer-Generated Pictures, April 1965, at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York. The Stuttgart exhibit featured work by Georg Nees; the New York exhibit featured works by Bela Julesz and A. Michael Noll and was reviewed as art by The New York Times. A third exhibition was put up in November 1965 at Galerie Wendelin Niedlich in Stuttgart, Germany, showing works by Frieder Nake and Georg Nees. Analogue computer art by Maughan Mason along with digital computer art by Noll were exhibited at the AFIPS Fall Joint Computer Conference in Las Vegas toward the end of 1965.
In 1968, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London hosted one of the most influential early exhibitions of computer art called Cybernetic Serendipity. The exhibition included many of whom often regarded as the first digital artists, Nam June Paik, Frieder Nake, Leslie Mezei, Georg Nees, A. Michael Noll, John Whitney, and Charles Csuri. One year later, the Computer Arts Society was founded, also in London.
At the time of the opening of Cybernetic Serendipity, in August 1968, a symposium was held in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, under the title “Computers and visual research”. It took up the European artists movement of New Tendencies that had led to three exhibitions (in 1961, 63, and 65) in Zagreb of concrete, kinetic, and constructive art as well as op art and conceptual art. New Tendencies changed its name to “Tendencies” and continued with more symposia, exhibitions, a competition, and an international journal (bit international) until 1973.
Katherine Nash and Richard Williams published Computer Program for Artists: ART 1 in 1970.
Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) designed the first Graphical User Interface (GUI) in the 1970s. The first Macintosh computer is released in 1984, since then the GUI became popular. Many graphic designers quickly accepted its capacity as a creative tool.
Andy Warhol created digital art using a Commodore Amiga where the computer was publicly introduced at the Lincoln Center, New York in July 1985. An image of Debbie Harry was captured in monochrome from a video camera and digitized into a graphics program called ProPaint. Warhol manipulated the image adding colour by using flood fills.
Formerly, technology restricted output and print results: early machines used pen-and-ink plotters to produce basic hard copy.
In the early 1960s, the Stromberg Carlson SC-4020 microfilm printer was used at Bell Telephone Laboratories as a plotter to produce digital computer art and animation on 35-mm microfilm. Still images were drawn on the face plate of the cathode ray tube and automatically photographed. A series of still images were drawn to create a computer-animated movie, early on a roll of 35-mm film and then on 16-mm film as a 16-mm camera was later added to the SC-4020 printer.
In the 1970s, the dot matrix printer (which was much like a typewriter) was used to reproduce varied fonts and arbitrary graphics. The first animations were created by plotting all still frames sequentially on a stack of paper, with motion transfer to 16-mm film for projection. During the 1970s and 1980s, dot matrix printers were used to produce most visual output while microfilm plotters were used for most early animation.
In 1976, the inkjet printer was invented with the increase in use of personal computers. The inkjet printer is now the cheapest and most versatile option for everyday digital color output. Raster Image Processing (RIP) is typically built into the printer or supplied as a software package for the computer; it is required to achieve the highest quality output. Basic inkjet devices do not feature RIP. Instead, they rely on graphic software to rasterize images. The laser printer, though more expensive than the inkjet, is another affordable output device available today.
Adobe Systems, founded in 1982, developed the PostScript language and digital fonts, making drawing painting and image manipulation software popular. Adobe Illustrator, a vector drawing program based on the Bézier curve introduced in 1987 and Adobe Photoshop, written by brothers Thomas and John Knoll in 1990 were developed for use on MacIntosh computers, and compiled for DOS/Windows platforms by 1993.
A robot painting is an artwork painted by a robot. It differs from other forms of printing that uses machinery such as offset printing and inkjet printing, in that the artwork is made up of actual brush strokes and artist grade paints. Many robot paintings are indistinguishable from artist created paintings.
One of the first robot painters was AARON, an artificial intelligence/artist developed by Professor Harold Cohen, UCSD, in the mid-1970s. Another pioneer in the field, Ken Goldberg of UC Berkeley created an 11′ x 11′ painting machine in 1992. Multiple other robotic painters exist though none are currently mass-produced.
Neural style transfer
Non-photorealistic rendering (using computers to automatically transform images into stylized art) has been a subject of research since the 1990s. Around 2015, neural style transfer using convolutional neural networks to transfer the style of an artwork onto a photograph or other target image became feasible. One method of style transfer involves using a framework such as VGG or ResNet to break the artwork style down into statistics about visual features. The target photograph is subsequently modified to match those statistics. Notable applications include Prisma, Facebook Caffe2Go style transfer, MIT’s Nightmare Machine, and DeepArt.
Most of the works in this period are geometric. This is also explained by the difficulties in creating realistic images, both in relation to the visualization technology in the graphic outputs, monitor and printer, and in the development of algorithms. Artists, in the late 1970s, also began to be interested in the possibility of animation that the computer can provide. At the time, the resources were focused on the inclusion of photographic images, drawings, paintings and, still, for the treatment of information, resulting in two-dimensional animations. This interest will cause an approximation with the cartoon and thecinema. What will change this approach and design is the three-dimensional modeling, which emerged from the 1980s, and which allows the attribution of the concept of simulation to the images generated on the computer. These images are called synthesis images, meaning that their aesthetic differs from digital images that are captured from the real.
Computer technology, at that time, provided and allowed to simulate the construction of realistic three-dimensional images with resources that included the creation of movement. In this context, two ways of imagery production were constituted: one that consisted of adapting the traditional animation technique to computational procedures, where information is provided to the computer in order to describe the movements; and the other synthesized the information from algorithms. The two ways were often combined in artistic works. We found, still in that period, a great variety of realistic production and experiments with organic and complex animations.
At the same time, artists who were situated in the tendencies marked by the concept of the spectator’s participation in art sought to develop mechanisms of back- perception between the work and the spectator, where dialogue had a priority place. Frank Popper points out two striking trends: the one that is primarily interested in the participation of the body, and, in this sense, they invent new interfaces, and the one that uses existing interfaces, such as the keyboard and mouse, emphasizing, above all, the result of the images presented.
Computational equipment plays a decisive role in every interactive device and, in this case, the artist takes into account the specificity of the human / machine interface that will allow the exchange of information, the type of interaction that can be performed, for example, through the hands, body movements, audible, textual commands and the multimedia / hypermedia character (animations, texts, sounds, connection nodes) of the interactive devices in the telecommunications network or in artistic installations.
Currently, together with the technique of three-dimensional modeling and interactivity, the concept of immersion in the image is being developed. The sensation of immersion arises in virtual spaces due to its three-dimensional shape, where it is possible, in addition to exploring space, to act inside and get in touch with other people and virtual objects.