Creating Art with Computers

Cubic Limit

This image was generated by Manfred Mohr in 2010, from a program written in 1974. Mohr was already a recognized abstract artist before using computers to create art in 1969. He programmed algorithms that the computer used to invent — and then paint — geometrical designs.

Creating Art with Computers

The urge to create is in all of us. Even computer scientists.

From the earliest days of computing, users created art when there was spare time available on machines. In the 1960s, researchers at Bell Labs began experimenting with computer graphics, with some becoming major figures in computer art. Outside the lab, curious artists also began experimenting with this new medium.

From Laboratory to Gallery

Computer art began as an intriguing exercise. It morphed into a legitimate expression in the 1960s.

At San Jose State University in 1963, professor Joan Shogren and Jim Larson demonstrated computer art programmed by Shogren using punched cards. That same year, Computers & Automation, a technical journal, launched its first annual computer art competition.

Computers & Automation Computer Art Editorial

Edmund Berkeley’s magazine Computers & Automation awarded second prize in their computer art contest to “Stained Glass Window."

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Vertical-Horizontal Number Three

Dr. Michael Noll’s early computer art, created at Bell Labs, was featured in the “Computer-Generated Pictures” show at the Howard Wise Gallery in 1965.

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In Gaussian-Quadratic, Noll’s program drew lines connecting 100 points generated by a pair of equations.

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Gaining Acceptance

Was computer art an exciting new medium? Or a novelty and gimmick?

New York’s Howard Wise Gallery and other established dealers began showing computer-generated art in the mid 1960s, endorsing it as serious work. The 1968 purchase of Csuri’s “Hummingbird” by New York’s Museum of Modern Art heralded a coming of age.

Howard Wise

Founded by art dealer Howard Wise, New York's Howard Wise Gallery curated one of the first exhibitions of computer art (titled "Computer-Generated Art") in April of 1965. Wise's exhibitions focused on the intersection of art and technology, and introduced kinetic, video and computer-generated art to a wide audience.

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Mohr’s image uses repeated geometric figures, transformed differently in different locations, to create the illusion of depth.

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