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Digital Pioneers of Computer Art


Lloyd Sumner, 1970, color plotter print

I recently visited the Digital Pioneers exhibit of early computer art at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. The exhibit shows off the V&A collection of computer art, and includes several items acquired from the Computer Arts Society archives.

Perhaps I should have, but I had never heard of such early computer artists as Frieder Nake, Charles Csuri, and Manfred Mohr, and I was surprised to find that much early work was performed in the late 1960s and 70s. As so often happens, I had to travel to another continent to learn about someone close by, in this case, Harold Cohen (Professor of Art at UC San Diego), the inventor of AARON, a widely influential procedural art generator. Wikipedia has reasonable summaries of computer art and generative art that can be used as launching points for investigation. A 1985 piece by Frank Dietrich in Leonardo, Visual Intelligence: The First Decade of Computer Art also gives good historical background. Fast-forward to today, there is an exhibition book Digital Pioneers (V&A Pattern), a recent book about British computer art White Heat Cold Logic (2009, MIT Press), and the yearly Generative Art Conference.

For me, a key question is what relevance these generative art techniques have for my main focus, procedural content in computer games. I confess I’m drawn to brush-based techniques like the Cornell robot for interpreting images into painted artwork, but clearly more creativity in the core algorithm is desirable to create a broad range of game content. I’m certainly curious to learn more about how AARON works to see if there is any crossover potential.

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