Digital art and the computer screen


Early examples

All forms of digital art begin with a Pixel, otherwise known as a picture element, which is a single point in an image (quite like the single dots that George Seurat used to create paintings using the methods of Pointillism) (Fig1). Each of these points represents different colours which are blended together when the viewer steps back from the screen. With Pointillism paintings it could be said that they were the first step towards digital art on the screen. The pixel almost seems to mimic the single points or single dots used in this style of painting. With Pointillism painting, the size of the dots and how close the dots were together depended on how clear the image was to the eye, the quality, and the range of the colours produced. Again the pixel seems to mimic this method; the amount of pixels per inch (ppi) on a screen affects the quality of an image, either being high or low resolution. The more pixels there are, the more tightly packed they will be, therefore the image quality/screen resolution and colour range will be higher. The fewer pixels there are, they will not be packed as tightly together, therefore image quality/ screen resolution and colour range will be lower. It was from here that traditional art methods and techniques began to hand over ideas (such as the idea of the Pixel) and combine with technology to create a new form of art known as digital art.

Digital art is a form of art produced on a computer, or on screen through the application of software and with the collaboration of techniques from an artist and software tools. It has allowed art to expand from being in physical existence; be it on a canvas, paper or a wall to being in a virtual existence; on a screen, on a storage device or on the internet. The idea of an artwork being in a virtual space and not being physical has raised many debates around labelling it as a form of art.

'In the past, where an artwork was exhibited was often a means by which it was classified. If it was in a museum or gallery, it was considered 'art'.[1]

If the digital art form was created to engage a viewer, to create a reaction, to hold meaning or to gain various interpretations, does it not desire the same sort of attention from a viewer as that of a traditional art piece? , can it not then be considered a form of art whether it be virtual or physical? These are some of the many questions raised around digital art as being 'art' as many viewers have followed too closely the rules and conventions of traditional artworks and have become narrow minded and un-open to new ideas and new forms of art. The introduction of technology allowed the creation of new ideas into the art world, which raised these debates as to whether or not these forms of so called 'art' should be considered art.

'While there were a few courageous souls experimenting with digital forms in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it is only recently that museum and galleries have begun to take the art form seriously. Although this is a welcome change, it is important to acknowledge those pioneers of digital art who were willing to experiment in unfamiliar territory.'[2]

The basic Fundamentals of digital art can go back as far as the cave paintings such as the painting of the Dappled Horses (chapter 1: Fig.3) possibly even as far as Mayan art and Egyptian art if you are to take into consideration the application of science and mathematics into the art work of these periods. Digital art is also linked with science technology and mathematics taking into consideration some of the methods and techniques used in creating traditional art works; such as perspective, proportion, colour choice, pattern making and image sequence. There are two eras of digital art the era of Computer art; which is computer generated art and the era of software art; which requires input from a user/ artist to create an outcome. Early computer art was created in labs by scientists in the late 1950s 1960s who had little knowledge or skill in art and techniques

'Michael Noll is one of the earliest pioneers to use a digital computer to create patterns and animations solely for their artistic and aesthetic value'.[3]

Noll used mathematic algorithms to create simple images which were composed of lines and were black and white in colour (fig.2). These images were abstract and served no real purpose but act as a form of experimentation of art and technology. Although these images were not seen as being as aesthetically pleasing as a traditional art piece, or directed by the hand of an artist rather by a series of codes automatically generated by a machine, they can be said to be influenced by the work of abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock[4] whose work employed random naturalistic methods (fig.3). The images in fig.2 'Gaussian Quadratic':

'Ninety-nine lines connect 100 points whose horizontal coordinates are Gaussian. Vertical coordinates increase according to a quadratic equation. As a point reaches the top, it is reflected to the bottom to continue its rise the exact proportions of this pattern were chosen from many other examples' [5]

With this particular piece of Noll's work the particular proportions described were vaguely similar to that of the painting "Ma Jolie" by Picasso (fig.4). This shows that Noll's Technique was influenced by traditional art techniques thus partially proving the fact that digital art did evolve from traditional art and that the creation of new technology did not solely open the window for art to evolve into digital art.

As computer art began to progress, so did the use of algorithms, shape, form, colour and perspective. Take for example the work of Manfred Mohr who began using the computer in 1969 because of a growing interest in creating algorithmic art. Mohr used algorithms to create abstract shape and forms with algorithmic repetition used as inspiration for his works. In (Fig.5) Mohr stated that

"Adding colours to my work describe spatial relationships which are not based on colour theory. The colours should be seen as random elements, showing through their differentiation the complexity and spatial ambiguity essential to my work"[6]

Mohr took a different approach to creating an image to that of a painter. He did not choose his colours but left them for the computer to decide. A painter would see colour choice as one of the most important element of composing a painting but with algorithmic art the series of randomly composed shapes and lines fitted quite well with the randomised assortment of colour shades and tones. His work takes into consideration the theory of chance, only instead of chance random algorithmic repetition is used. Mohr's work was quite like the work of Piet Mondrian whose work (fig.6) was purely abstract based on the construction of lines as grids, colour and perspective. It could also be said that Mohr's art forms took on ideas from cubist painters where objects seem to be cut up and re-arranged to intersect at random angles taking away a sense of depth from the image. But with Mohr's work it was almost as if he was taking on these techniques but adding to them to almost make the image seem three dimensional with the layering up of similar shapes and lines beside one another using the algorithmic repetition technique.

  1. Art of the Digital Age: Bruce Wands: Thames and Hudson:2006: First edition : Pg 11
  2. Art of the Digital Age: Bruce Wands: Thames and Hudson:2006: First edition : Pg 14
  3. [Date Accessed: 18-02-10]
  4. Pioneer of abstract expressionism 1912-1956: [Date Accessed: 18-02-10]
  5. Gaussian Quadratic: [Date Accessed: 18-02-10]
  6. Space. Colour: Date Accessed [19-02-10]

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