Art of Computers:Computers of Art

Posted on April 21, 2009


I’m presenting the Art of Computers timeline at the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators Conference.

Here’s the artefact (pdf 14MB).   Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

The time-line is in two sections – a history of computers from Sumerian tablets and Stonehenge, and concurrent artistic representations. The time-line considers fusions and fault lines between these two sections.

Within a context where art and design educators are considering histories and futures, this paper presents a timeline which consists of two sections, a history of computers from Sumerian tablets and Stonehenge on the top line; and concurrent artistic representations along the lower half. Computing is represented by all manner of intelligent machines, from toasters to super-computers, along with concurrent developments in tools: watches, typewriters, calculators and underlying technology: mathematics, electricity, transistors and chips. Similarly, artefacts of the fine arts are joined by literature, lyrics, advertising, cartoons, magazine covers, film, stamps, media coverage and, interestingly, magic tricks. In the late 1700s two long-standing rules were broken. Machines couldn’t think and people couldn’t fly. But in 1783 the Montgolfier brothers flew and the automaton “Turk” beat many of the best chess players in Europe. One of these was a trick, a piece of artistry, but it set minds thinking, including Babbage’s.

artline2_optSince then computing has had a place in art, not through any perceived beauty of the objects, but as a result of our uncertainty about a machine that thinks, enslaves and possibly replaces humans while all the time appearing as a tool to end all tools. In recent years ideas of interactivity and virtual worlds have been added to the artistic picture. As the computer becomes “ossified” into the culture (Penny, 1995), and the technology becomes invisible – the iMac is decidedly an appliance, and Honda’s ASIMO walks and talks – it will become harder to maintain this time-line, not because of a lack of material as it seems set to explode, but because the lines become blurred as computers and humans continue to co-evolve. The time-line aims to consider the fusions and fault lines between its two sections.

In some cases the art follows the technological development, responding to new challenges or sometimes reflecting additions to the culture. In others, the art pre-dates the technology, sometimes for a short time, and the technology follows, inspired perhaps by the art. On occasion, the art represents an unrealised future.