Celebrating 36 years – original unique computer digital art from 1980s to 2020
NEWS: Micro Arts is on Computer Arts Archive (British Computer Society)
Visit Computer Art Archive here.
Micro Arts was founded, run and programmed by Geoff Davis, along with an diverse group of young artists and programmers. It released computer generated art, conceptual pieces and story generators on data cassettes and Prestel TV teletext, and provided a forum for computer artists and musicians. Micro computers were newly available at low cost and led to a radical change in the use and consumption of computer graphics and computer controlled systems.
The range of publicly released computer art was very wide. The following (unless noted) were programmed by Geoff Davis using a Spectrum 48 – a Zilog Z80 A CPU running at 3.5 MHz, with 48k of RAM. Programming involved ‘peeking’ and ‘poking’ values directly into the memory:
- generative visual art with user control – MA1 ‘Abstract Originals’ – 7 programs – see video section
- conceptual and challenging programs – MA2 ‘Various Unusual Events‘ – 6 programs
- feminist agitprop – MA2 ‘The Money Work System’ animation of the SCUM Manifesto Valerie Solanas (Andy Warhol connection). This also included a Universal Basic Income (UBI) concept used in later fiction
- math/data art – ‘Carry On Computing’ (in MA2) – January 2020 reissued as print in the code::art magazine by Sy Brand (blog on soon)
- story text generator – MA4 ‘Cow Boils Head‘ – endless fiction
- slow art – ‘Minimal‘ – 23 months to draw one screen (in MA2)
- art animations – MA3 – based on Duchamp, Mondrian and Muybridge – BBC Micro (2 MHz MOS Technology 6502/6512) – 4 programs (these by Martin Rootes, who also made animations for the Hacienda and Leadmill clubs)
- had a print magazine – ‘Language as a Virus’, ‘Electronic Beowulf’, ‘Micro Music’ and many other articles
- innovative graphics for NetWork 21 pirate TV in London (Geoff) and Manchester Hacienda, Sheffield Leadmill (Martin)
- inclusive, not exclusive, no membership, open source (before it was named) software, publicly available on national Prestel teletext and via mail order data cassettes
- widely reviewed in the national computer press such as Computing and Computer Weekly, and niche magazines like Blitz, Sinclair User etc.
In the early 1980s computers and computer (or ‘video’) graphics of all types were making it into public awareness. The new micro computers such as the Sinclair Spectrum, Amiga, BBC Micro and many others were mostly used for games, although 3D journeys of exploration were arriving in cloaks of pixilated mystery. Pong, Space Invaders, Manic Miner and The Dark Crystal arrived around this period.
Micro Arts was one of the first producers of computer art and ‘creativity apps’ in 1984, presenting a wide range of generative computer art for the microcomputer, including evolving computer art, animations and generated text stories. These were distributed in compilations, to entertain and educate. The Micro Arts generated abstract art could be used to make ambient visuals, with menus to control colours, speed etc. Micro Arts also produced text story generators, animations and more.
The history of this period is summed up well by Paul Brown of the Computer Arts Society (CAS):
“My reading of this is: by the mid 1980’s the original objectives of the CAS – ie. to promote the use of computers to creatives – had become obsolete thanks to cheap ‘personal’ computing and creative apps. When CAS was relaunched 20 years later the main objective was to research, archive and maintain the history.” 
 Paul Brown of CAS, email to Geoff Davis June 2019.