Scratch 2015


Recoding of early computer art

With the exhibition here on the 1st floor I take explicit reference to the beginning of computer art, which is namely to be dated to February 1965. So pretty much 50 years ago the world’s first exhibition of computer art took place quite near here, at the University of Stuttgart, organized by the philosopher Max Bense, a then very prominent Stuttgart intellectual giant.

This was followed in the same year two other exhibitions, one in April in the New Yorker Howard Wise Gallery, another in November in the Stuttgart scene bookstore Cute. In August 1968, was followed by a groundbreaking exhibition in London: Cybernetic Serendipity (Increase / flukes). The heyday of computer art only took about 10 years. Then she disappeared more or less back from the scene. In recent years, interest is, however, wakes up and recognizes its role as a precursor and pioneer of modern media art.

One of the pioneers, Herbert W. Franke (who you may know more as an author of science fiction novels), it has so defined: Below Computer art is defined as the present in the form of pictures results of data processing processes performed by mechanical stamp vending machines or electronic screen devices are issued.

Looked at designated computer art only an approach with digital tools, but not its own art form. It is thus a true naturalized but rather inappropriate term; We do not talk about art of brush as a separate art form. Anyway, it all started with the experiments of some engineers and mathematicians who (also known as plotters) night misused the scientific or technical designation expensive procured characters machinery for the production of aesthetic objects purposeless.

[Image Zuse Graphomat Z 64]

As your results to the public presented in these exhibitions, they met in the arts community and the press first widespread criticism.

So also in the first exhibition in Stuttgart, of which is narrated that present visual artists responded sour. They should have applied and leave türenknallend the room. Max Bense did not like it and he should have called after them: Gentlemen, These are artificial art! It is not sure if he called: just to artificial art. He wanted to draw a line in any case to the art that created the artists themselves. The Stuttgarter Zeitung wrote like this: A Heinzelmann (the computer JW) makes it possible that the modern pictures manufacturer no longer needs technically straining.

But it was well not only as Bense said that the artist felt threatened in their creation possibilities of the machine, it was probably the simplicity of many graphics and the difficult assignment of works to their originators, the doubts about the art in the Computer Art triggered.

It is remarkable indeed that the Pioneers (to be mentioned Nees, Nake, Franke or Molnar) largely showed works that were working with pure polylines or line hatching (such as Noll, Nees and Nake); very popular was the square as the basic element (eg Franke and Molnar). The actual authorship of the images is almost interchangeable.

In part, this of course was due to the then technical possibilities. The plotters initially offered almost exclusively the possibility of output in S / W. Lines could be fairly accurately draw with the technique of stepping motors for moving the crayons. Far less accurate was the control for curvy and flat graphic elements.

It is therefore perhaps simply due to technological advances that early computer art already ended after a decade.

• With the invention of the microprocessor and the increasing use of PCs, so the personal computers that are so naturally available to us today
• with the interactivity of the system, now traditional painting techniques can be simulated by, to the finger painting on tablet
• and with the drastic improvement of the output devices in resolution and color accuracy
were there no longer just the engineers and scientists who were able to use these devices, but the visual artist himself conquered the technology for themselves and their artistic job.

But, in addition to some works of early computer art (which were unfortunately hardly collected systematically) it is my opinion the lively theoretical discussion of Max Bense’s information aesthetics and anknüpfende it generative aesthetics that put and keep lasting impact has generally to the current forms of generative art and media art.
Especially Nake has developed key ideas, among others with the concept of a class of works of art:

To create a class of works of art, the artist must first describe this class and also to specify a method as individual instances (works) of this class are realized (in the computer art are the algorithms). That is now already clear as opposed to individual work of art that is in the traditional art in the center. The provocation from 1965 therefore was: If you can calculate art (works), then what is the artist?

It is later said Nake which puts the seriousness of that confrontation and would rather want a shot Dadaism and irony. This irony he sets himself the way the computer art in relation to Pop Art, the concrete art and constructivism. As an example, he takes the Series Homage to the Square, for Josef Albers has become famous.

Over 26 years, Albers had hundreds of painted variations thereof, always consisting of three or four concentric squares. They are painted with pure colors in tubes always new color grading. His question is: how the colors interact with each other, how they influence each other? For Nake it is thus perhaps the simplest example of the history of art, which can be in his system completely replaced with a combinatorial program. His conclusion, which could be considered quite for many works of modern art movements is that (I quote)
the art is not due to the Albers’s squares in the diagram. You must be in its special choice of colors. But otherwise, this pedagogical exercise „art“ only in that art history these pictures hanging in the museums and takes in the catalogs. […] The social process of reception makes for a work of art, not the creative process of the artist.

This should now suffice as background on artificial art.

My own access to computer art was the one determined by this starting in the 70s and by Max Bense on information aesthetics initiated debate that I could follow but only occasionally as a young student at the time. Later, it was actually the graphics of Georg Nees and Frieder Nake. Their produced with graphics plotters reported direct parallels to produce so-called turtle graphics with the programming language Logo.

This programming language was developed by Seymour Papert, an American mathematician and educator, in order (and indeed already primary school children) to give children a tool at hand, enabling them to solve problems through programming – in different subjects, not just the Mathematics. Nevertheless, although the language logo addresses the target group of children, Logo is quite powerful, in some areas even more powerful than conventional programming languages.

A central element of the logo is mentioned turtles graphic (turtle graphics). This turtle is a sign robot with a pen, with the simple commands – as I said – like a plotter, can be controlled.


With Logo time I had occupied myself professionally intense than media didactics and have this now resumed with the current logo versions. With Snap! I have chosen a so-called visual programming environment, are combined in the program elements like puzzle pieces. Actually, it was only natural and logical to use logo also ensures nachzuprogrammieren examples of computer art. And then I have also done …

Who already knows works of computer art, is very similar to my exhibits to recognize this (especially for works by Nees, Noll, Nake and Molnar). Most graphics are worthy as a direct homages these pioneers of computer art.

If the algorithms works of computer art underlie, it would of course have been useful, these algorithms from the algorist – to take over and only programmatically implement – as called themselves some computer artists. Unfortunately, unfortunately, but they are almost never documented. That’s why I’ve tried to typical examples, to produce similar images with their own algorithms.

My ambition was then, my implementation always formulate compact and at the same time as flexible as possible. In fact, most ranged each about 20 – 30 lines of code. Since I made all relevant image properties about formatting options, I could quickly generate many image variations – including the algorist have safely used with plotters hours.


Some results you see today in the exhibition: It starts in the staircase to the 1st floor with two classics of computer art, namely gravel by Georg Nees and Frieder Nake after hatching. These two pictures have me finally getting them to devote myself more intensively so the topic.