Aesthetics of Computer Graphics

Aesthetics of Computer Graphics: v2

( written as a conference paper 1987 but not presented )
First published on the web 1995 as part of one man show at the Urban Exile Gallery
then include in Pixxelpoint 2001 webshow,

Updated & reworked as Version2,  September 2003


Daily bombarded by the frenetic rate of change in computing, I was some-what taken aback when I came to updating this paper, a textbook example if ever I needed one of; "the more things change, the more some thing's stay the same". Thankfully 'computer graphics' is no-longer a mollycoddled segregated genre it was in 1987, now it is more a high-tech embellishments to traditional media. Computer animation has become so easy and ubiquitous that school kids routinely churn out short animations in their bedrooms, that in their grandparent's day would have taken a major studio with an army of animators, painters months to do if they could ever simulate the sophisticated 3D lighting effects at all. Unfortunately what prompted the original writing of this paper has only diminished marginal at best in all the years between, there is still a fixation on the HOW a work was made rather than WHAT the work is on about.


The term Computer Art has been bandied around in a vague fashion for many years at Computer Graphic gatherings without any examination of the myriad of hard and tantalizing questions surrounding the subject.

  • Where is Computer Art heading ?
  • Can anybody make great Art with the aid of a computer ?
  • Is the Computer the ultimate artistic medium ?
    And what form should the art take ?
  • Will artificial Intelligence lead to Robot Artist ?
  • Is there any distinct future for Computer Graphics in Fine Art ?
  • Before we get carried away, at Ausgraph86, Sally Pryor, raised the question, 'What is Computer Art?'
    This paper attempts to answer these many questions by examination of the conceptual and aesthetic heritage and understanding of the Fine Arts, to lay some foundation for future presentations on the Computer Art debate. (A bibliography referencing worthwhile text is included).
  • Is a slick slide or even the program that generated it Computer Art?

Let's first examine some of the current views then dig deeper with some powerful conceptual tools
provided by art history .;-


The computer press is fairly silent on the subject, excepting the occasional gem. John Bird's (Sally Pryor's former lecturer) Ausgraph84 paper [1] provides some brilliant insights to the teaching of Computer Animation which apply just as well to the broader question of computer Art. He says;-

'5.1 conceptual difficulties:EVERY GRAPHIC MARK............IS NOT "ART" EVERYTHING
THAT MOVES.........IS NOT "ANIMATION" Open any computer magazine and you discover doting
parental pride.....that the computer industry has created a baby that can.......DRAW!
and.....MOVE !!!!! Let's not mistake "potentiality" for "actuality". This baby may be smart but
it is no Rembrandt or Walt Disney...Yet!

At this point in time [1984], as a graphic arts and animation tool computing technology is about as
appropriate as using a crayon mounted on the blade of a bulldozer, to sign your cheques.

Technologically, the images, which frequently border on the illegible, are graphically crude
imitations of previous visual media. .....'

Now nearly twenty years later we have since witnessed breath-taking leaps in computer power, processor speeds and output resolutions. But sadly the next bit of John Bird's quote from 1984 is still as true today, as it was way back then;-

'.......... crude imitations of previous visual media. Conceptually they are counterfeit, like the early
electronic musical instruments which tried to emulate their acoustic predecessors.

It's like hanging the draftsman's blueprints in a gallery as works of Art. The architect's,
draftsman's or engineer's drawings are merely an intermediate phase in the realisation of the final
production of a building, a circuit, or a bridge.

However, for the visual arts, the "drawings" are not the means-to-an-end, but the end itself.''


Now we have some sort of motivation and context to tackle the question 'What is Computer Art?'
Let's break it down and examine 'What is ART ?' first.

Art as defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is,

ART;... The application of skill to the subject of taste: Skill applied to the arts of imitation and
design, the cultivation of these principles, practice and results. * Anything where skill may be
attained, an occupation in which skill is employed to gratify taste or produce what is beautiful; an
acquired faculty of any kind; a Knack ! (1637)

This definition is too broad for our concern, another way is to draw on the work of Douglas Davis [2] and Ernst Fisher [3], to define Art as being a combination of three concerns or attributes.


   An unequal balance of these primary concerns is something else, but not ART.

   MAGIC + MESSAGE = Advertising &/or Propaganda
   MAGIC + MEDIUM = Design &/or Decoration.

It is obvious from the above that a combination of disciplines eg. the craft of woodblock printing and the message of Historical reporting can combine to create works of Art, as in Traditional Japanese Woodcuts .

4#. MAGIC +.

These definitions reveal more on closer examination. Starting with Magic of which Douglas Davis says;-

" 'Fischer traces the origins of art back to magic:  the earliest amulets, 
charms, and cave paintings were means of controlling nature. Art, in Fischer's
eyes, is therefore a tool an instrument of power like any other, corrupted into
its present decorative commodity status by the onset of capitalism.'

 Ernst Fischer makes a great insight when he states :-
 'We are inclined to take an astonishing phenomenon too much for granted. And
it is certainly astonishing; countless millions read books, listen to music,
watch the theatre, go to the cinema. Why? To say that they seek distraction, 
relaxation, entertainment is to beg the question. Why is it distracting,
relaxing  ,entertaining to sink oneself in someone else's life and problems,
to identify oneself with a painting or with a piece of music or with the
characters in a novel, play or film? Why do we respond to such "unreality"
as though it were reality intensified? 
What strange mysterious entertainment is this?' "

Magic was ancient man's protection from, and way of dealing with, his outside environment and its hostile elements. It was a mixture of religion, philosophy, art & science.

The power to deal with one's environment, in these days of specialization, has been partitioned off in various disciplines leaving Fine Art with the role of relating man to his environment in a non-verbal a-rational manner; philosophy doing the same task in a rational & verbal way. It is important to note here that this 'magic', 'the extra something', 'the power to deal with ones environment', is not something that can be distilled in a verbal description. If what you are analysing in a work can be verbalized it is the message, not the magic of the work.

5.# MESSAGE +.

Message is what is communicated. All true art communicates something, whether that be a great philosophical idea, or something as simple as 'take a look at this!'. Neither of these statements can be regarded as more important than the other, they both have important places in the total scheme of things.

When you have something which is only decorative or illustrative it lacks the magic to make it art. Photography released painting from the trap of just recording and illustrating the world and its events, photographers sadly fall in the same trap many times. The easiest way to separate illustration from fine art is to ask, 'What is the designer's intent, their major consideration in the work?' If the answer is to EXPLAIN something (how, why, what or where) about something the work is usually illustrative. If, however, the answer is to make you FEEL something, you are looking at art, propaganda, or kitsch. Thus when you come to something like James Blinn's work of 'The Voyager Flypast' film done at the N.A.S.A Jet-propulsion Laboratory you can say that the total work is not art, as it's primary consideration is simulation and communication. However when a still or a specific sequence is edited out of the total work, for reasons of its' beauty, or emotive impact, that selected piece may be a work of Art.


Of our trilogy, Magic, Message & Medium we still have to deal with MEDIUM, this breaks down further into, Technical Aspects, Theoretical Aspects (Design constructs ect.) and Ethical / Philosophical Aspects.

TECHNICAL ASPECTS are the nitty gritty concerns when creating an artwork. Questions like, 'Why doesn't this paint stick?', 'Why does this subroutine hang the job?', 'Why does this colour look redder in the print, than on the monitor?' A work of art should be the highest quality possible within the Ethical / Philosophical paradigm of the medium and situation that the creator is working in.

One of the major hindrance to great Computer Art is the technical morass, so that with the effort to obtain a particular result, the temptation is to put up any pretty picture that results as Computer Art. Irrespective of how technically sophisticated a picture is, it doesn't at some point of polishing became Art. It is disappointing to note that paradoxically as the interfaces have become more accessible and the software has become more flash, the artistic value of so-called pieces of computer art have receded at a horrifying rate. This deterioration in quality has been signified by a famine of curatorial interest in the machination of programmers playing artist. Since the late 60's high tide mark of: [See 4 & 5 ] there have not been any significant surveys exclusively exploring computers as a revolutionary Art "media".

  • "Cybernetic Serendipity"(1968) Inst. of Contemporary Art in London;
  • "Information"(1970) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York;
  • "Software"(1970) at the Jewish Museum in New York.

With the 1990s computer technology bleed into many art-forms as hi-tech adjuncts to the artist tool-box, but rarely as ground-break multipliers for creativity endeavour. Meanwhile the USA's Association for Computer Manufacturing (ACM) SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group GRAPHic) Conference and Art Show have yearly heralded the expanding horizons of Computer Graphics.


THEORETICAL ASPECTS, are the first aesthetic considerations by which any work of art is judged. This area is too broad to be dealt with adequately here. Good texts on the subject are sighted in the bibliography [6-10]. {Also on line at is a "Vizsic Sematic Fusion", Elements & Principles from Visual Arts reconciled with (Aural) Music theory terminology}. Suffice to say we are talking about;

(things you work with)

  1. Line
  2. Direction [Planes]
  3. Shape [Mass]
  4. Size / Volume
  5. Texture
  6. Chiaroscuro
  7. Colour
  8. [Space /{ Time }]


  1. Proportion
  2. Picture Plan & Focal Point
  3. Compositional Models
  4. Spatial Queues
  5. Viewpoint/Point of View
  6. Value Regime ( Tonal Key ) Theory  { explanation at }
  7. Colour Theory
  8. Content / Subject Matter
  9. Dynamic Time Structure}

(the way you work them)

  1. Repetition !! Alternation ( Rhythm )
  2. Relationship / Gradation !! Radiation
    [Tension !! Compression]
  3. Harmony [Proportion] ( gharmony )
  4. Contrast / Opposition, Conflict
  5. Dominance
  6. Unity
  7. Balance / Mass !! Density
  8. [Movement /{ Sequence }]


  1. Portrait Format
  2. Figure / Ground Relationship
  3. Landscape Format
  4. Open & Closed Composition
  5. Georgian Window
  6. Classical / Baroque Renditions

The number of computer graphics that put the focal point of the image in the center of the field of view, defies imagination. How can people get access to super-computers who have an understanding of composition less than is expected in Junior High School ! Unless someone attempting computer art can get these Theoretical aspects right they might as well give up now, and try something else, as it gets harder.


ETHICAL-PHILOSOPHICAL Aspects, are the second major set of aesthetic considerations of any work of Art.

It covers such questions as ;-

  • Truth TO the Medium !
  • Honesty TO the Medium !
  • Appropriateness OF the Medium !
  • Honesty OF the Medium !
  • Historical tradition & context of the Medium !
  • Language & syntax of the Medium !

This is about exploiting the innate qualities of the medium, and bringing out the medium's full potential for expression. Computer- graphics provides the best example of this;-

If some 3D modelling process is used for the production of a still , yet the final 2D rendition gives no clue to the use of 3D data, the medium potential has been drastically undersold in the work. There is really no point in the technical feat (see Honesty to the Medium below ). One way out of the above dilemma of 3D work on a 2D surface, would be a series showing different lighting &/or views of the object highlighting its 3 dimensionality, alternatively a series featuring its process of construction.

This is the corollary of Truth to the Medium (this closeness in concept often leads to a muddying of the distinction in conversation). It is about not being clever & smart just for the sake of being clever and smart. A very skilful craftsman can paint in oils to make it appear that the painting was done in water-colours, overcoming some immense technical problems of pigment to medium ratios and surface quality, but the technical feat adds nothing to the Art of the work. If anything the extra effort required in working against the medium's innate qualities distracts the artist from other considerations of Magic, Message & Medium in the work.

This closely couples with the concept of honesty to the Medium. It is about choosing the most suitable medium for the work at hand. You would not immortalize a local hero for future generations by setting up a statue in the middle of an Australian town in summer made out of snow! (Average Australia summer temps are in the high 30s centigrade) That example sounds a bit silly, but it is only a short step to the stupidity of trying to do drawings on a computer-paint-system to look like they have been done freehand with pen & ink, scratch board or pencil.

Brings us to the work of Marshall McLuhan [11]

     "The medium is the message."

The subject is too complex to be dealt with here. Suffice to say, it is about how a medium like photography can be organized by context to convey a deliberate lie, or to twist the viewer's reading and response to an image. Post-Modernism has been a great asset here with the development of semiotics. See the bibliography [12,13] for sources of examples and theory.

With your now more finely tuned insight you have probably guessed this is a large messy area, that should be left till later, so we can get back to our slick slide question.


'Is a slick slide or even the program that generated it Computer Art ?'

By now you will have realized from the above definitions that the vast majority of slick-slides are not Art. Yes they may be very good Business Graphics, Advertising Promos, T.V. Graphics or even Art-like experiments with a new medium, but experiments with a new medium are not automatically Art. Most slick-slides come off PAINTBOX systems so what of them? Paint-systems offer undeniable advantages in speed and utility in situations like T.V. studios, but their ease of use does not necessarily make them ideal tools for the production of Art works. Going back to 'Appropriateness of the Medium' the artist and the viewer must ask themselves, 'Could this image have been done more successfully with a more traditional medium ? oils ? water colours? If the answer is Yes, the paintbox image has failed the test. You may think that a little tough but lets us look at it another way. A very important ingredient in the creative process is the feedback the material gives the artist during the development of the work. The main reason why an artist style will vary across different mediums is that the artist when using a given medium will explore it's FULLEST POSSIBILITIES TO EXPRESS their artistic intent in producing that work. Now if this 'Exploration of the full set of possibilities' is undertaken when using a paintbox, the result can not look like an oil or water-colour, because both these styles of representation along with sampling, zooms, pattern generation, repeats will come into play in the one work, resulting in a work that could not have been done more successfully in another medium.

Frame-grabs are another feature of most paint-systems. This feature comes with a couple of problems, beside the copyright problem. (Which is far from satisfactory. Most artist receive little or no protection for the majority of their work, as the second-hand user has only to change over 15% to legally rip it off. Not to mention zero protection for the concept, a situation that would be intolerable in software or music copyrights). The use of frame-grabs to incorporate existing images into a new image opens a can of aesthetic worms;- Origin, Code, Pastiche, Quotation, Authenticity, Plagiarism, Authorship, Originality. These issues were the crux of the current heated debated in the Art world then, thus there was no better place to start than the catalogue for 'The Sixth Biennial of Sydney 1986'.

In this work Rosalind Krass [14] touches the heart of the matter.

"............. we can see that modernism and the avant garde are functions of what
we could call the discourse of originality, and that discourse serves much wider
interests - and is thus fuelled by more diverse institutions- than the restricted
circle of professional art-making. The theme of originality, encompassing as it
does the notions of authenticity, originals, and origins, is the shared discursive
practice of the museum, the historian, and the maker of art......the discourse of
originality in which impressionism participates represses and discredits the
complementary discourse of the copy. Both the avant garde and modernism depend on
this repression."

The debate about the need for a 'unique original object' has been seen in the computer art world as a major deterrent to the acceptance of Computer Art by the Mainstream Art World. In the Post- Modernist world to quote is now more acceptable than it was, but you still have a unique object. Conceptual and Post-Object Art were ever in a hungry, hand to mouth situation because of the lack of a 'unique original object'. Computer Art has similar problems;- Is the artwork the image on the screen? or the data on the disk? (sounds a bit like a certain copyright case!), or even the program that generated the data ? ?


To solve this question we need to look a bit closer at the Art making process. To help yet another definition of Art.
 "Art is the footprints in the snow, made by a bear on his early morning walk. Zen is what the bear had for breakfast"

The point of the quote is Art is a process, making works of Art is something you do, like writing computer programs. You can within the appropriate conceptual context have a computer program as part of a work of Art, as important as the colours in a painting. [see below] A score for a symphony is a work of art? or does the music have to be first performed ? I have avoided looking at specific examples so far because of all the other issues that any given work will inject for one to do justice in examining that work. But a description (as opposed to images will allow us to focus on the issue at hand.

'Seek' 1970 by the Architecture Machine Group from M.I.T.(Massachusetts Institute of Technology) show us such use of a program particularly well. It consisted of a large glass box opened at the top. In the box was a colony of gerbils (a small rodent) who were making their homes out of little metal cubes, while above a computer controlled grabclaw was intently trying to stack those same blocks in an orderly fashion. The computer was unaware that it was destroying the gerbils homes each time it retrieved the next block, but it was equally at a loss why it's neatly stacked blocks walked away when the mysterious gerbil whipped a block out to repair it's home. [21]

Harold Cohen's work [5] uses a program AARON to control a turtle that does line drawings on a large sheets of paper on the floor. The whole-piece i.e. Artist + Program + Results is Art. But the resulting drawings (which Cohen sells by the foot.) are not automatically Art, but depend on the judgement made on them during any selection or editing process.

As Cohen's work is often seen as the future direction for Computer Art, what with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and expert-systems, is it possible we may see Robot Artist ?


To answer this question, and the other one of, 'Can anybody with the help of a computer make great art ?', we have to delve more deeply into creative process. We need also examine the nature of thinking in general as modelled to varying degrees of success by AI practitioners.

Historically in the plastic arts there has been two main streams, which are distinguished by their approach to creative endeavour, more than by stylistic considerations and trends of the resulting work.

The streams are CLASSICISM on one hand, and ROMANTICISM and EXPRESSIONISM on the other. The output of each can appear quite contradictory to relate to same. So a list of landmarks may help.


Egyptian Art
Conceptual Art


    Helenistic (Greek) Art
    Mannerism & Baroque
    Pop Art.

So what has this got to do with AI. My hypothesis is;-

"Given the materialization of the most marvellous intelligent sane machine, only art work of a classical tradition will ever be possible! Because Romanticism / Expressionism is a result being human, the sort of creation that bubbles uncontrollably within the deepest most parts of one being."

This requires the AI community to have solved how to make computers EXPERIENCE hope, pain and love, let -alone creative longings and the muses' touch. The Classical Robot Artist, and the ultimate do it yourself art-machine for Joe Average are a little closer however. There have been some very interesting programs written; an expert system that churns-out, a few more paintings in the style of Mondrian, or an E.S. that does musical arrangements after the fashion of Bach.

But stylistic mimicking is not the same as creating. The human mind functions in the area of feelings and intuitive knowledge during the creative process. The gap between AI's rationalising methodology and mans' intuitive jumps is immense, as clearly elucidated by Hubert & Stuart Dreyfus [15], in Technology Review.

"Digital computers, which are basically complicated structures of simple on-off switches,...[A .Newell & H.Simon] saw that one could use symbols to represent elementary facts about the world and rules to represent relationships between the facts. Computers could apply these rules and make logical inferences about the facts...Newell and Simon believed that computers programed with such facts and rules could in principle, solve problems, recognize patterns, understand stories,  and indeed do anything that an intelligent person could do.....

BUT!  ..Experimental psychologist have shown that people actually use images, not descriptions
as computers do, to understand and respond to some situations. Humans often think by forming
images and comparing them holistically. This process is quite different from the logical, 
step-by-step operations that a logic machine performs."

But when creating a new thing, where do the images come from, with which to think? What is the source of inspiration understood as a mental process. Jacques Maritian [16] describes two sides to the human intellect. One side,

"is fecundated by intelligible germs on which all the formations of ideas depends.  And it draws from them, and produces within itself, through the most vital process , it's own living fruits, its concepts and ideas."

He argues that this process may not always be deliberate, and that the germs themselves are usually unrecognized.

"There can exist unconscious acts of thought and unconscious ideas." The other side
according to Maritain is,

"the Illuminating Intellect, a spiritual sun ceaselessly radiating, which  activates everything in intelligence, and whose light causes all our ideas to arise in us, and whose energy permeates every operation of our mind. And this primal source of light cannot be seen by us; it remains concealed in the unconscious of the spirit"

He argues that while we mostly know that we are thinking, we don't know how,

"..... before being formed and expressed in concepts and judgments, intellectual
knowledge is at first a beginning of insight, still unformulated, a kind of
many-eyed cloud which is born from the impact of the Illuminating Intellect on
the world of images, and which is but a humble and trembling inchoation, 
yet invaluable, tending toward and intelligible content to be grasped. "

To put it all more pointedly computers may be superb at rationalizing, but stand little or no chance of being able to imagine and create, particularly considering that most people find it difficult to do same, let alone understand it !

So with all this promised potential in Computer Art. What ever happened to the Technological Renaissance?


The main problem in leading any endeavour, is that you may get your fingers badly burnt.

In DATAMATION Ken Sofer [5] observes

"......Conceptual artists were attracted to ... cybernetics, with its focus on the
process by which information is generated, transmitted and assimilated. They began
to apply a systems approach to art. In their view, the exploration and rapid
transfer of information was of central. interest, and the art object itself had
become a kind of tomb for the creative spirit-a bit of congealed culture to carry
to the gallery, living room, or museum. According to these artists, the
handcrafted object served the dealer, collector, and curator rather than the
artists, art, or the public....'

 '.....Where are the offspring of the more innovative art/technology fusions
featured in "Cybernetic Serendipity", "Information", and "Software"? Why does
it seem that artists have relegated the computer to the role of an expensive
electronic paintbrush?  The answers are complex. For one thing, the
art/technology shows received anything but universal critical acclaim. They
were costly to mount (approximately $125,000 for "Software"), required engineers
to set up and operate, and after all that, many pieces never worked properly. 
According to Grace Glueck of the New York Times,"Temporarily out of order' was
the operative phrase... at 'Software'..."

Further more, as one might expect, the idea of uncollectable art never went over well with dealers, collectors, and museum curators. Conceptual artists, who claimed that the elimination of the art object also obviated the art critic, didn't make many friends in that field either. And not having anything to sell is a hard way to make a living' (and don't I know it!)


Before we tackle the future, it is best to understand a little of the roots of modern art in general and computer graphics in particular. Painting in the mid. 19th. century, was primarily concerned with the capture of reality and mood. With the invention of photography , painting moved into modernism driven by an ever advancing Avant -Garde. The developments in film from then to now is a casebook example of the evolutionary process of a medium;-

At first film had no aesthetics of it's own. It was a passive eye recording the world, a window in time to some past performance in a musical or stage-play. It took some twenty years for film to develop its' own unique aesthetic. When video arrived it inherited the aesthetic of the cinema image, which is contrary to the more personal nature of the video medium, it was not till the 60's that video began to distil its' own more personal aesthetic.

What is MODERNISM? Irving Sandler [17] states

'................... Modernism can be defined narrowly, arbitrarily limited to a
single tendency proclaimed as mainstream and avant-garde. .......... But
modernism can also be viewed broadly as unbounded, multiple, inclusive of every
tendency that seems at all "progressive" that is, different from what has been.'......'

'..... During the sixties,  such purist tendencies as stained color-field abstraction
and Minimalism- which aimed to reduce art to that which was intrinsic to its medium and to
eliminate all that was not- were announced by critics to be modernist, avant-garde, ....'

'..... Indeed, post-modernism more often than not should be called post-Minimalism.
 Or perhaps Minimalism can be considered the latest (possibly final) stage of modernism....'

'..... Frontiers may remain, but the artist who discover them cannot be considered
avant-garde since the impulse to press to the limits has become established as a tradition....'

Clement Greenberg adds [18]
"The avant-garde has ceased to exist, not only because so many limits of art have
been reached, but because there now exists a large and growing public that no longer
responds in anger to the novel, and when not eager is a least permissive. Elitists
may question the motives of the mass audience for art and the quality of its aesthetic
experiences but not its sympathy"

Rackstraw Downes [19] who was one of the first to apply the term post-modernism sums it up

"Modernism deteriorated into a kind of pictorial narcissism- it became a painting
capable only of admiring its own nature. Post-Modernism has seized on these failings
as its raison d'et re and announced its existence by giving the act of painting
something to do"

It is no coincidence that the demise of painting was one of the main triggers for post-modernism. For it can be argued that the true explorers of artistic endeavour let us call them the New Guard, left painting as an exhausted corps before the commencement of World War II. They played with sculpture till the 70's, but their main stream moves from Futurism and Surrealism into the rediscovered, revitalized mediums of environments & happenings, and the new mediums of Abstract Film & Video, Visual Music, Vizsic . In 1986 I suggested that it was to these new mediums (Vizsic) we would find the natural environment of Computer Art, as Post-Modernism's central ideology was the rejection of PROGRESS in the arts or anything else, an anti-technological ethos, Post-Modernism's debasement of idealism and concepts of value and worth made for a gloomy future. As a claw-back of optimism elsewhere ( ) I wrote "Chaotic Hope".


The future for computer graphic Arts must lie within the mainstream of international cultural life, if it is to be anything more than a technological freak show. NOW! more than anytime since the computer appearance on earth the aesthetic debate is ripe for Computer Art's contribution. Nick Waterlow in the Biennial Catalogue [20] gives this context an urgency when he concludes.

'  Post-modernism is the effort to go beyond modernism, in Nietzsche's words, via
"the trans-valuation of all values". It represents eternal nomadicism. It is
dependent of the past, the appearance rather than the substance, which is
ironically re-created and by definition synthetically.  Post-modernism can not
give birth to the new, can only reiterate the old because its values are relative
not absolute and it is dependent on the return of the past; a chimera.

....The end of the second millenium offers the hope of breaching the cyclical
pattern of action/reaction that has characterised the tyrannical notion of progress,
epitomised by the god of science with is ruthless materialism. The fall of Icarus. 
Our fin de siecle is of extreme significance as actions of the previous century are
weighted additionally by thoughts of moving out of the 500 year span of the
Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the two Great Wars
and the shadow of nuclear self-destruction.....

...It is vital that the language of the artist be re-connected with the visionary
dimensions of advanced science fist intuited by the progenitors of nonobjective art......

.....Modernism separated us from the past; post-modernism re-asserts the past only
in form. Modernism was a kind of obsession, a form fixated on itself and its
succession of new creations; we are now dazzled by post-modernism's linguistic acrobatics.

  The new future can only exist through a reconciliation, through a deep
re-experiencing of the past. "La recherche dutermps perdu is the vehicle for future liberation." '


We need to heed McLuhan's [11] warnings

    'The future of the future is the past'
    'We look at the present through a rearview mirror'.

Western Culture (read political & economic power as well,) is waning in its' present crisis, slipping beneath an oriental cultural awakening and economic explosion.

There was at Ausgraph86 the need expressed for a manifesto. The Futurist Manifestos would be the best place to start, because;-

  1. They meet their country's need for a sense of identity in a time of crisis, (Italy before World War 1).
  2. They are concerned with the beauty and challenge of technology for society and the Arts.
  3. Many of their aims were never realized in their day because their vision outstripped the technological means of the era.
  4. They are Computer Art's Aesthetic Roots.
  5. This is 'A Deep re-experiencing of the past' to 'be re-connected with the visionary dimension of advanced science'.
  6. So get involved. Reason enough the cultural needs (which must be solved to safeguard one's market penetration), not mentioning the money to be made by serious investment in the arts for arts sake, and because High Tech. Art has historically proven itself as fine an engine for technological development (and much safer) than the Space or Arms races.

While in 1986 I enthused that "Australia for historical aesthetic and geopolitical reasons is the best place to make such an investment , Now!" the web and other history since has devalued the former importance of  'place' to any cultural strategy. So in 2003 what is important is to just do it, then get the work out there.


Before concluding lets review our question and answer so far.

Q. What is Art?

Q. What is Computer Art? The Slick Slide or even the program ?
A. It depends on the intent of the work, and the process by which the creator asses his work.

Q. Is there any distinct future for Computer Graphics in Fine Art ?
A. No only in combination with traditional concerns, film, sculpture, photography etc.

Q. Will A.I. lead to a robot Artist?
A. Maybe yes, a big maybe! But classical imitators are more likely.

Q. Is the Computer the ultimate artistic medium?
A. No. The imagination is, everything else are poor imitations.

Q. Where is computer art heading?
A. Not very far, without any patronage.

17.# 1986 CONCLUSION.

Q. Can anybody make great art with the aid of a Computer ?
If you had an inexpensive device, that allowed the easy capture, storage, manipulation, rendition, retrieval of creative ideas, one would reckon you could make endless great artworks. Wouldn't you? Such a device has been around for nearly 100 years. It is called a photographic camera. Run of the mill snap-shots are not great Art, because the ability to create great art whether with a pencil or a computer, is not a function of technology, but the creativity and imagination of the mind of the user of the technology. PS:................ all the more so in 2003 with digital cameras.


Starting with "Burning Chrome" (Omni, July 1982) then "Neuromancer" in 1984 raging ever on across the 'Sprawl' William Gibson had 'Cyberspace, the Matrix & Jacking-In'. Real-life stalked Art in 1987 when the Internet was born as the NSFnet (the US National Science Foundation network ) was joined to ARPANET (Advance Research Project Agency Network). While some tech-savvy artist had already used private networks for e-mail, with Internet e-mail a lot of the more traditional artist got curious about computers for the first time. The early text-only Internet had one important ingredient for our aesthetic tale, Multi-User Dungeons "MUDs". MUDs (& MOOs = Object Oriented MUDs) where only an on-line / electronic version of the popular cult game 'Dungeons & Dragons', but on the net the game morphed from a few friends face in the same room, to players anywhere in the world with a computer and a modem.

Way back in 1965 Ted Nelson had coined the concept of hypertext, it was not until the Mosaic graphic interface browser with HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language) that hypertext became a common text form, as the Internet evolve into the World Wide Web (WWW) . While primarily written works the MUDs, hypertext and the web, are all contexts where new computer augmented literary art-forms can now blossom where without a computer none was possible before. In those days the concept of an interface 'metaphore' quickly became the keystone of any critical analysis of the sociology or ergonomics human machine interaction. . Brenda Laurel's book title "Computers as Theatre" neatly encapsulates where all this was leading. [23] 

While in 1986 by tracing the " stream moves from Futurism and Surrealism into the rediscovered, revitalized mediums of environments & happenings, and the new mediums of Abstract Film & Video " my analysis was generally correct, then faced with two choices I picked the wrong one (Murphy's Law as true as ever). The whole quest for a fusion of musical and visual expression has indeed been invigorated by the advances in computing and related music and video technologies. But the manufactures of those same technologies corroded the dream for the moment with a rash of conflicting short-lived hardware & software formats, as each attempts to gain a dominate position by outmanoeuvring the competition.

Adrian Henri's "Total Art" [21] is a whole booked documenting the line from the Futurist to the Performance, Happenings and Environments of late twentieth century Art. The cyberpunk writer Neil Stephenson extended the idea of virtual reality on the web with 'the Metaverse, the Street & Goggling-Up', whole virtual communities in cyberspace. The climax of .Stephenson's .1992 novel "SnowCrash" is a Happening in cyberspace that threatens the real world. Science fact was only a breath behind in 1994 VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) brought computer augmented virtual spaces to the web. While a clunky at first, with the roll-out of fibre-optic network and ever more powerful and faster personal computers what was the quintessential Cyberpunk dream is becoming a daily reality for some. 


 In 1967 Robert Breer did a piece of environmental art called "Floats" motorized pure form sculptures that move about quietly and mysteriously by themselves. For the Pepsi-Cola Expo'70 Pavilion[22] at Osaka in Japan Breer collaborated with EAT (Experiments in Art & Technology) in the construction of a large artistic environment featuring the Floats and many other ground breaking high-tech artworks. While with a 1986 slant I have already done one take on the possibility EVEN THE PROGRAMME ? [as above] could be a work of art, Breer's 'Floats' point to another direction that has become very important artificial life and knowbots.


       by J.E.Bird  Ausgraph 84 Proceedings,  Melbourne 18-21/9/84.
 2.  'ART & THE FUTURE'   Douglas Davis

 3.  'THE NECESSITY OF ART' Ernest Fisher    Pelican
    'ART AGAINST IDEOLOGY' Ernest Fisher    Allen Lane Penguin

          Studio International, Special Issue as catalogue for same
 5.  'ART? OR NOT ART?'   Ken Sofer      Datamation  October 1981.

 *  'AARON'S CODE'   Pamela McCorduck  W.H. Freeman & Co (c) 1991

              Thames & Hudson  1975

 7.  'THE ART OF COLOUR AND DESIGN'            1951
               Maitland Graves   McGraw-Hill Book Co.,

 8.  'POINT AND LINE TO PLAIN'   Kandinsky  Dover Press
               Maurice de Sausmarez. Studio vista

 10.  'THE PAINTERS SECRET GEOMETRY'  Charles Bouleau 
                    Harcourt,Brace & World N.Y. 
 11.  'UNDERSTANDING MEDIA' Marshall Mcluhan  Routledge,Regan Paul. London .

 12.  'THE NEW PHOTOGRAPHY' Frank Webster
 13.  'THE ORDER OF THINGS' Michael Foucault  TAVISTOCK Publications

       Roslind Krass    New York 1984 
           The Sixth Biennale of Sydney Catalogue.
                  Technology Review  Jan.1986
               Irving Sandler   Art Journal Fall/Winter 1980
    '"INTRODUCTION ,"Critics Choice 1969-70, by Irving Sandler 
                 N.Y,New York State Council on the Arts, 1969.

 18.  'ART:HOW ART WRITING EARNS ITS BAD NAME' by Clement Greenburg. 
                          Encounter 19.Dec.1962
    'ART AND CULTURE'      by Clement Greenburg. Beacon Press.

 19.  'POST-MODERNIST PAINTING'  by Rackstraw Downes,Tracks, Fall 1976

 20.  'ORIGINS ORIGINALITY + BEYOND' Nick Waterlow quoting Herbert Marcuse.
                  The Sixth Biennale of Sydney 1986 Catalogue

 21.  'TOTAL ART: Eniviroments, Happenings, and Performance'
        by Adrian Henri, pub.Praeder Publishers  1974
 22.  'PAVILLION by Experiments in Art and Technology'
             Ed. Billy Kluver, Julie Martin & Barbara Rose, 
                  E.P.Dutton & Co., Inc. New York 1972.

'COMPUTERS AS THEATRE' by Brenda Laurel, Addison-Wesley 1991. 

"Aesthetics of Computer Graphics" copyright W.Shawn Gray (c) 1986, 2003


[about] [Legals] [home] [Sitemap]

This Site is constantly evolving, so please forward comments or questions regarding this site to webmaster:
© Copyright 2003 ~2009 W. Shawn Gray, All rights reserved
 Use of this web site and content from it is subject to our Legal Notice and

Site created AuzGnosis P/L