The History of Digital Art for Crypto Explorers

60s–70s Part I: Pioneers of Computer Art

Artists Who Made an Impact in the History of Digital Art

The 1960s and 1970s play a significant role in the history of digital art. During that time art started to intersect with technology and artists began experimenting with computers, often in collaboration with engineers. While not a comprehensive list of artists, this post aims to shed light on some of those who left a strong impact in the development of digital art, including Georg Nees, Frieder Nake, Kenneth Knowlton and Leon Harmon.


GEORG NEES

Georg Nees (1926-2016) was a German mathematician and academic. He studied mathematics, physics and philosophy. He was the first person to publicly show art that was generated by a computer - computer art, which is today generally called digital art, generative art and in his specific case we would refer it as algorithmic art.

Georg Nees, Schotter,  Computer-generated image, lithograph on paper, 1968-1970. Given by the Computer Arts Society, supported by System Simulation Ltd, London, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [1]
Georg Nees, Schotter, Computer-generated image, lithograph on paper, 1968-1970. Given by the Computer Arts Society, supported by System Simulation Ltd, London, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [1]
Georg Nees, 23-Ecke (Polygon of 23 vertices), 1964, Source: Compart [2]
Georg Nees, 23-Ecke (Polygon of 23 vertices), 1964, Source: Compart [2]
Georg Nees, Screenprint on paper, mounted on board, 1970, Given by the Computer Arts Society, supported by System Simulation Ltd, London, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [3]
Georg Nees, Screenprint on paper, mounted on board, 1970, Given by the Computer Arts Society, supported by System Simulation Ltd, London, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [3]
FRIEDER NAKE

Frieder Nake (b.1938) is a German mathematician, computer scientist, regarded as one of the pioneers of computer art. In the 1960s he created an algorithm to explore Paul Klee’s use of vertical and horizontal lines. His source of inspiration was Klee’s 1929 painting Highroads and Byroads. Nake's ultimate goal was not that of creating an exact reproduction of Klee's artwork. He rather explored ideas about possible algorithmic art forms.

As pointed out by The Victoria & Albert Museum:

Nake defined the parameters for the computer and the pen plotter to draw […] He then deliberately wrote random variables into the program which allowed the computer to make choices of its own, based on probability theory.

Frieder Nake, Hommage à Paul Klee, 13/9/65 Nr.2, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [4]
Frieder Nake, Hommage à Paul Klee, 13/9/65 Nr.2, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [4]
Photograph of a plotter drawing, 'Random Polygons', by Frieder Nake, 1964. Given by the American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of Patric Prince, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [5]
Photograph of a plotter drawing, 'Random Polygons', by Frieder Nake, 1964. Given by the American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of Patric Prince, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [5]
Frieder Nake, Walk-Through-Raster, 1967,  Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [6]
Frieder Nake, Walk-Through-Raster, 1967, Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [6]
KEN KNOWLTON and LEON HARMON

Ken Knowlton (b.1931) is an artist, mosaicist, portraitist and a computer graphics pioneer. He used to work at Bell Labs. Leon Harmon (1922-1983) was a researcher in mental/neural processing. In 1966 Knowlton and Harmon experimented with photomosaic and made the first experiment to scan a photograph into a computer, recreating it with a different range of grey generated by mathematical and electronic symbols. Their famous image of a reclining nude is what Knowlton and Harmon defined as "computer-processed creatures".

Ken Knowlton and Leon Harmon, Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I), 1967, silkscreen print, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, © Estate of Leon Harmon / Ken Knowlton [7]
Ken Knowlton and Leon Harmon, Computer Nude (Studies in Perception I), 1967, silkscreen print, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, © Estate of Leon Harmon / Ken Knowlton [7]
E.A.T

Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) was a collective set up in 1967 in New York to foster collaborations between artists and engineers. This organisation was originally founded by engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. It gave rise to installations and performances incorporating new technologies.

Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), Source: Digicult [8]
Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), Source: Digicult [8]
ALLAN KAPROW

E.A.T served as a source of inspiration for many artists who continued to explore the intersection between art and technology. In 1969 American artist Allan Kaprow (1927-2006) created his famous artistic TV happening, an interactive experience between groups of people and television technologists.

Alan Kaprow, Hello, 1969, Source: Ecology of Intimacy [9]
Alan Kaprow, Hello, 1969, Source: Ecology of Intimacy [9]

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

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Continue learning about the History of Digital Art for Crypto Explorersread next post 60s and 70s part II

Read previous post about 1950s: How it All Started, The Origin of Computer Art

*This article is for non-profit educational purposes. We do not represent or work with any of the featured artists. The copyright of all images belong to their authors. We aim to contribute to the research in the field of digital art and hope our readers will find this article beneficial to their learning.

11 May 20
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