Computer Graphics: Effects of Origins



SIGGRAPH 1990: Digital Image-Digital Cinema




New forms of art and technology are frequently cast in the mode of old forms, just as other aspects of material and symbolic culture have been. Only when these new forms become available to the larger population can they affect cultural patterns of maintenance and change. The author traces the evolution from alphanumeric hard copy, static and dynamic screen images, through objects and events that are not screen-based, to dynamic, interactive, multi-sensory output. The effects of origins and prior practices in both technology and art on form, content, material, technique, meaning and purpose of computer graphics are explored. Speculation regarding possible and probable futures are raised.

[View PDF]


  1. H. Franke, Computer Graphics-Computer Art (London: Phaidon, 1971) p. 7. Franke’s definition of computer art is “any aesthetic formation which has arisen on the basis of the logical or numerical transposition of given data with the aid of electronic mechanisms.” According to Beyer (unpublished lecture, 1976), “computer graphics centers about visual output and uses other media/techniques in auxiliary methods.”
  2. B. J. Jones, “Computer Imagery: Imitation and Representations of Reality,” Leonardo Supplemental Issue Computer Art in Context (1989) pp. 31-38.
  3. B. J. Jones, “Cultural Implications of Integrated Media” (1989 unpublished manuscript).
  4. The research reported in this paper reflects my work since 1973, when I began to collect images and essays on the computer in the arts and humanities. In 1976 I complied an educational slide set, a history of computer graphics (funded by the National Science Foundation and the Oregon Mathematics Education Council). At the 1978 Conference for Computer Assisted Learning I drew an analogy between early uses of electricity and computers and in 1978 at the Second West Coast Computer Faire suggested the potential widespread and multiple uses for microcomputers. B. J. Jones, “Computer Art and Art-Related Applications in Computer Graphics: A Historical Perspective and Projected Possibilities,” Proceedings of the Second West Coast Computer Faire, J. C. Warren, ed. (San Jose, CA: 1978).
  5. Among theorists who hold this view are Foucault, Rosler, Sekula and the author. Selected examples include M. Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (New York: Colophon, 1972); M. Rosley, “Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment,” Block 11 (1985/1986); A. Sekula, “The Traffic in Photographs,” Art Journal 41 (Spring 1981); B. Jones see [2,3].
  6. B. J. .Jones, “The Two Cultures and Computer Science,” The Computing Teacher (December 1980); reprinted in Run Computer, D. Harper and J. Steward, eds. (Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole, 1983) pp. 197-199.
  7. B. J. Jones, “Microcomputer Controlled Generation of Artifacts as an Interdisciplinary Teaching Aid,” The Computing Teacher 9, No. 9, 42-45 (1982).
  8. B. J. Jones, “Computers in the Arts and Humanities,” The Computing Teacher (February 1981); reprinted in Run Computer, D. Harper and J. Stewart, eds. (Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole, 1983) pp. 190-197.
  9. B. J. Jones, “Toward Deomocratic Direction of Technology,” in Art in a Democracy, D. Blandy and K. Congdon, ed. (New York: Teachers College Press, 1987) pp. 64-73.
  10. J. Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1976).
  11. S. Brand, The Media Lab, Inventing the Future at MIT (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987).
  12. S. B. Weinstein and P.W. Shumate, “Beyond the Telephone: New Ways to Communicate,” The Futurist 13, No. 6, 8-12 (1989).
  13. This section relies heavily on H. Franke (see [1] and Franke’s Computer Art-Computer Graphics, 2nd Ed. (New York: SpringerVerlag, 1985); J. Reichardt, Computer Serendipity (New York: Praeger, 1969), Computer Art and Ideas (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1971), and The Computer and Art (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971); R. Leavitt Artist and Computer (New York: Harmony, 1976); and selected periodic literature from Leonardo and Art Forum.
  14. K. R. Castelman, Digital Image Processing (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1979).
  15. M. Neal, “When Did Scientific Visualization Really Begin?”IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 8 No. 6, 8-9 (1988). See also Ref. [16].
  16. A. M. Noll, “Human or Machine: A Subjective Comparison of Piet Mondrian’s ‘Composition with Lines’ (1917) and a Computer-Generated Picture” in Psycology and the Visual Arts, James Hogg, ed. (Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1969).
  17. R. A. Kirsch, L. Cahn, L. C. Ray and G. H. Urban, “Experiments in Processing Pictorial Information with a Digital Computer,” Proceedings of the Eastern Joint Computer Conference (New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 1957).
  18. A. Rosenfeld, Picture Processing by Computer (New York: Academic Press, 1969); “Progress in Picture Processing: 1969-1971 (A Biliography),” Computing Survey, 5 (June 1973) pp. 81-108; “Picture Processing, 1972,” Computer Graphics and Image Processing 1 (1972) pp. 394-416.
  19. D. A. Ross and D. Em, The Art of David Em (New York; Harry N. Abrams, 1988).
  20. I. Sutherland, “A Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display,” FJCC AFIPS 33, o. 1, 757-764 (1968).
  21. J. J. Batter and F. P. Brooks, Jr. “GROPE-1,” IFIPS 71 (1971) pp. 759-765. GROPE-1 was a glove-like device that provided the wearer with tactile and kinaesthetic illusions. This device presaged the later development of the full-body suit currently worn in virtual reality environments.
  22. M. Pruitt, Art and the Computer (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984).
  23. Jasia Reichardt, Robot: Fact, Fiction and Prediction (New York: Penguin, 1978).
  24. J. L. Kirsch and R. A. Kirsch, “The Anatomy of Painting Style: Description with Computer Rules,” Leonardo 21, No. 4, 437-444 (1988); “The Structure of Paintings: Formal Grammar and Design,” Environment and Planning: Planning and Design 13 (1986) pp. 163-176.
  25. G. Stiny, “Pictorial and Formal Aspects of Shape and Shape Grammars and Aesthetic Systems” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1975); J. E. Gips, “Shape Grammars and Their Uses” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1974).
  26. Leonardo Supplemental Issue Computer Art in Context (1989).
  27. J. C. R. Licklider and R. W. Taylor, “The Computer as Communication Device,” Science and Technology 76, No. 4, 21-31 (1968).
  28. D. Peterson, Gensis II (Reston, VA: Reston Publishing, 1983) p. 9.
  29. M. Berman, “The Cybernetic Dream of the Twenty-First Century,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 26, No. 2, 24-51 (1986).
  30. N. Magnenat-Thalmann and D. Thalmann, “The Problematics of Human Prototyping and Animation,” Computer Graphics Forum 8, No. 2, 115-123 (1989).
  31. D. Zeltzer, “Toward an Integrated View of 3-D Computer Character Animation,” Proceedings Graphics Interface ’85, M. Wein and F. M. Kidd, eds. (Montreal: Toronto-Canadian Information Processing Society, 1985) pp. 105-115.
  32. G. Turner, “Electronic Characterization,” American Cinematographer 67, o. 7, 79-82 (1986).
  33. A. Vasilopoulos, “Exploring the Unknown,” Computer Graphics World 12, No. 10, 76-82 (1989).
  34. N. Lee, “Motion Control Part II,” American Cinematographer (June 1983) pp. 44-48.
  35. R. Wright, “Virtual Reality,” Sciences 27, No. 6, 8-10 (1987).
  36. K. Kelly, “An Interview with Jaron Lanier; Virtual Reality,” interview by Adam Heilbrun and Barbara Stacks, Whole Earth Review 64 (Fall 1989) pp. 108-119.
  37. See Kelly [36].
  38. See Kelly [36].
  39. See Berman [29].
  40. Ann Wilson Schaef, When Society Becomes an Addict (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).
  41. M. Rollins, Mental Imagery on the Limits of Cognitive Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
  42. A. L. Ambler and M. M. Burnett, “Influence of Visual Technology on the Evolution of Language Environments,” Computer 22, No. 10, 9-22 (1989); S. Chang, T. Ichikawa and P.A. Ligomenides, eds., Visual Languages (New York: Plenum Press, 1986).
  43. Special Issue on Pictorial Image Databases, Computer 22, No. 12 (1989).
  44. J. Beck, B. Hope, and A. Rosenfeld, eds. Human and Machine Vision (New York: Academic Press, 1983); E. C. Hildreth and S. Ullman, “The Computational Study of Vision,” in Foundations of Cognitive Science, Michael I. Posner, ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989).
  45. G. Hegron, P. Palamidese and D. Thalmann, “Motion Control in Animation, Simulation and Visualization,” Computer Graphics Forum 8, No. 2, 347-352 (1989).
  46. Special Issue on Visualization in Scientific Computing, Computer 22 (1989) p. 100; “Visualization Stateof the Art,” ACM SIGGRAPH Video Review Special Issue 30.
  47. J. Derrida, Glas, John P. Leavey and Richard Rand, trans. (Lincoln, NB: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1986).
  48. E. L. Schwartz, B. Merker, E. Wolfson, and A. Shaw,” Applications of Computer Graphics and Image Processing to 2D and 3D Modeling of the Functional Architecture of the Visual Cortex,” IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 8, No. 4, 13-23 (1988). This article is self-referential in the sense that some modernist and contemporary art is self-referential; it describes a scientific model for visualizing the functioning of the visual cortex, or visualizing vision through an abstracted visual image.
  49. William Fleming, Arts and Ideas, 3rd Ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968).