An Evolution of Computer Art

I’ve been doing much reading about digital art this weekend, and it occurs to me that the evolution of computer art described in these books (and in my own experience) fits into three distinct categories.

At first, the computer’s place was before the art: an algorist would feed code into a machine, which would compute or produce a physical work that would then be shown as an individual work. Computers were large and unportable, so they could only be relied upon for the genesis of a piece.

Later, and in fact continuing through to this day, the computer can be beneath art: whether a piece of art is generated digitally or not, we primarily experience images as pixels displayed on screens. The ubiquity and decreasing scale of computers have allowed us to shorten the feedback cycle so that a work created programmatically can be experienced on the same machine that gave it form.

Finally, as the logical extension of that feedback cycle the computer is now also within art: through the real-time dimensional interactivity with a Kinect, the output of a preconceived program onto a screen, or the networks creating an artistic result out of multiple discrete experiences. Not only are works in this category dependent on computed instructions to determine their form: since the computations happen continuously and in real time, computers are integral to the experience of the work.

At Eyebeam on Saturday I heard the gallery attendant describe needing to “turn on” the installation. Computer art began long before the machine needed to be present in order for a work to be experienced. Today, the computer and the ability to experience art are more often than not an inseparable whole.

I wonder what the next stage of this evolution will look like.

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