Honor Beddard on Computer Art

Honor Beddard is the Curator, Word and Image Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This article considers the collection within the context of the V&A, as well as its wider cultural and ideological context. Via Bruce Sterling’s Twitter feed

'P-021' 1970

Some excerpts:

What types of works are included in the V&A’s holdings?

At present, the V&A’s computer art collections consist predominately of works on paper, including early plotter drawings by important pioneers such as Manfred Mohr, and examples of early animation stills and negatives. Holdings range from screenprints, lithographs and photographs of early analogue computer-generated images from the mid 1950s, to digital images from the 1960s onwards.

A definition.

Within the context of the V&A’s collection, computer art can be understood as a historical term that relates to artists using the computer as a tool or a medium from around the 1960s until the early 1980s. At this point, the appearance of off-the-shelf software and the widespread adoption of personal computers meant that more people were able to use the computer as a graphical tool without needing a background in programming. Simultaneously, the nature of computer-generated art changed irretrievably. As the sector widened, more artists began to work with digital technologies in increasingly open and interchangeable ways. The intense focus of early practitioners on basic hardware and the very building blocks of the computer – something which stills drives them today, even in the face of more sophisticated technology – is particular to that first generation of computer artists.

On the importance of craft(ing).

Computer art’s emphasis on form and pattern as opposed to content, the notion of art as applied to a practical end (or at least the possibility of), the application of a mechanical skill, and the importance of materials and tools make an interesting case for considering the computer artist as artisan. Rather than continuous recourse to inspiration, once a computer artist had decided upon their decorative scheme and written their algorithm, the objects could be ‘run out’ mechanically with little involvement of the artist, short of adjusting malfunctioning equipment. The workshop type origination and collaborative nature of much computer-generated art also suggests similarities with craft based arts.

Untitled 1969


An additional reading list on the topic is available (here)