Early computer art

Early activities

[Next 1980 Computer Art and Music]

Pong computer arcade game
Pong computer arcade game

This is a general timeline. Repetitive art goes back (if you want it to) to multiple hand prints in cave painting, tiling and paving patterns, mosaics, weaving, blocks and bricks, construction, architecture and many craft related activities.

I just read the ‘Back to the Future’ article and discussion about computer artist, SF author, and researcher Herbert W Franke by Anika Meier of Expanded Art. This has a chronology of Franke’s firsts:

1952 first generative photograph: LICHTFORMEN
1954 first analog computer art: OSZILLOGRAMME
1959 first exhibition MAK, Vienna
1960 first science fiction book : DER GRÜNE KOMET
1967 first digital computer plot: QUADRATE
1971 first book about computer artists: COMPUTER GRAPHICS – COMPUTER ART
1974 first color ink jet computer art: FARBRASTER
1974 first picture processing computer art: DIGITALE IMPRESSIONEN
1974 first computer film: ROTATIONEN/PROJEKTIONEN
1979 first science fiction Cyberspace-novel: SIRIUS TRANSIT
1979 first interactive dynamic pc program: MONDRIAN (image/sound)
2008 opening of the METAVERSE Z-GALAXY

Thanks to Genoveva Rückert and Susanne Päch for the list.

Visit https://www.ooekultur.at/back-to-the-future-the-potential-of-the-digital-in-art-then-and-now

Brief selection:


“The illustration of the “knowledge engine” included in early editions of Gulliver’s Travels is an engraving of a sketch from the notebook of Lemuel Gulliver. In other words, it is a purely fictional object. Yet, Swift’s fictional invention and its graphic representations have become part of the documented historical lineage of computing machines,” (Rodgers, 2017).


Christopher Strachey generated love poems, with variations based on Roget’s Thesaurus, on the Ferranti 1, the first commercially available computer designed from specification for the Manchester 1, designed by researchers at Manchester University UK.

1954 period

Angelo Testa created IBM Disks textile 1952–56. Screenprinted linen. Commissioned by IBM 1952-1956.


The German mathematician and computer scientist Theodore Lutz developed Stochastic Texts on a Zuse Z22 computer, which used Kafka’s novel The Castle for source material. He was merely demonstrating that the computer could generate meaningful text output on a teletype printer.


First computer art exhibition, at Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart, organised by Frieder Nake, Michael Noll and George Nees (Germany).

First U.S. computer art exhibition, at Howard Wise Gallery in New York. ‘Computer generated Pictures’ including Bela Jules and Michael Noll (US).

The Nobel prize winning author J. M. Coetzee created computer generated poems using an Atlas 2 supercomputer in 1965. Coetzee used some of his generated material in published poetry.


Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) launched by the engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. The event ‘9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering’ in October in New York (US), comprised 40 engineers and 10 contemporary artists working together on performances incorporating new technology.


The Flexipede by Tony Pritchett – first computer animated film in the UK. Pritchett used Fortran V to program The Flexipede.

Eduardo Paolozzi created ‘Universal Electronic Vacuum: Computer-Epoch‘. This was a screenprint, showing how artists were reacting to the idea of computers.


Cybernetic Serendipity – seminal exhibition of cybernetic art curated by Jasia Reichardt, shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London, England, and later toured Canada and USA. (The ICA is next door to Buckingham Palace, home of the Windsor royal family – an example of generative genetic networks.) Included algorhythmic art, robots, and music machines. Notably, Edward Ihnatowicz’s Sound Activated Mobile (SAM) used a tiny microcomputer to generate realistic movement responding to the viewer’s sounds and position, which was soon followed by The Senster which was a giant version. Cybernetic Serendipity led to the formation of the Computer Arts Society in UK. Included many of the early computer artists, and others such as video artist Nam June Paik. This has been extensively written about, for a start see the Wiki page, Cybernetic Serendipity

Robin Shirley  – poet, wrote his first program for computer-assisted poetry.

Computer Arts Society formed. CAS was a special interest group of the British Computer Society set up by John Lansdown (architect) and Alan Sutcliffe (pioneer of computer music) and George Mallen (cybernetics) (UK).

Some More Beginnings – the first international exhibition of art and technology held at the Brooklyn Museum, organised by E.A.T., from November 1968 to January 1969.


Computer Arts SocietyHow to write a Computer Poem‘ talk given by Robin Shirley, assisted by Spike Hawkins, ICA, The Mall, London, 4th May.

SIGGRAPH, Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics, formed by ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery (was Special Interest Committee in 1967, initiated by Sam Matsa and Andries van Dam) (USA).

CTG (Computer Technique Group) founded (Japan).

Event One, organised by the Computer Arts Society London, first time a computer enters the Royal College of Art (UK).

Generative Computer-Grafik, by Georg Nees, published (first doctoral dissertation on computer art, submitted to Universität Stuttgart, supervised by Max Bense) (Germany)

The Senster – Edward Ihnatowicz – see Cybernetic Serendipity (1968).


Charles Csuri organised Interactive Sound and Visual Systems, major exhibition on technology and the arts at Ohio State University (US).

Ecogame Britain’s first multimedia interactive gaming system exhibited in London, and also at the 1971 World Economic Forum in Davos. Created and designed by members of the Computer Arts Society led by George Mallen. Catherine Mason @cathcomputerarthistory has the full story in her forthcoming book – Creative Simulations: George Mallen & the Early Computer Arts Society.


Charles Csuri founded Computer Graphics Research Group (CGRG), Ohio State University, served as Director until 1986, when he founded ACCAD. See 1986.

Manfred Mohr – World’s first museum-based solo exhibition of computer generated art at Musee d’Art Modern, Paris (France).

Herbert Franke publishes ‘Computer Graphics – Computer Art‘ (Phaidon Press Ltd).


Pong arcade computer game released by Atari.


Richard G Shoup creates SuperPaint, first complete 8-bit paint system at Xerox Palo Alto (US).


Hunger produced by Peter Foldes at National Research Council, wins Cannes Film Festival Prix de Jury award for animation (Canada).

Ceefax started by the BBC (UK). World’s first teletext system running on analogue television signals. After 38 years of broadcasting Ceefax ended in 2012, when TV services switched to digital. See also Prestel.

Vidbits – created using SuperPaint. Alvy Ray Smith made Vidbits on the  SuperPaint videographics system (Dick Shoups). Artistic experiments with first 256-colour (8 bits per pixel) raster graphics system with video in/out and image manipulation.

Ant Farm, Media Burn, (1974/5). Ant Farm were a group of artists and architects in San Francisco. This was a video performance comment on televisual and media dominated culture.


Fractals – Benoit Mandelbrot (IBM, US).

Quantel (British company) – created a digital framestore, which for the first time enabled TV broadcasters to combine two live videos into one digital moving image.

Computer Graphics – 118 Computer Generated Designs – by Melvin L. Pruett, published by Dover Publications NYC.


Artist and Computer‘, published by Ruth Leavitt (US).


Harold Cohen – An Artist’s Use of the Computer’ – Arts Council of Great Britain Exhibition Tour.


Telidon (1978-1985, Canada) was promoted as a next generation version of the European invention interactive videotex, but with more advanced graphics and fully interactive. High running costs made it hard to justify as a service and it soon collapsed (similar to Prestel in the UK and unlike Minitel in France). See Prestel (1979), Minitel (1981), Telidon Art Project (1985).

Joseph Stanislaus (Stan) Ostoja-Kotkowski – computer generated poem Tidal Element became the first computer poem in Australia. Featured in ‘Australian Literary Studies’ (Adelaide University). He exhibited throughout the 1980s until his sudden death in 1994.

WordStar an early word processor released.

Space Invaders arcade game released.

Kraftwerk ‘The Man-Machine’ groundbreaking synthesiser music album released.


The Mighty Micro – Christopher Evans book – subtitled The Impact Of The Computer Revolution.

First Ars Electronica, Linz (Austria).

The Computer Museum opened in Boston, Massachusetts USA. Originally funded by DEC and called the Digital Computer Museum.

Brian Reffin Smith wrote ‘Jackson‘, an early digital painting program, for the Research Machines 380Z 8-bit computer. The program was distributed by the UK’s Ministry of Education and used in schools and elsewhere.

Joan Truckenbrod – Oblique Wave – algorithmic art.

Ed Emshwiller – ‘Sunstone’ animation (NYIT, USA).

Generator designed by Cedric Price (UK 1976-79) – ‘Intelligent Building’ sought to create conditions for shifting, changing personal interactions in a reconfigurable and responsive architectural project. In RIBA Magazine 1980.

Video Easel – early drawing and video software for Atari 400 and Atari 800.

Prestel launched in the UK – an early web-type teletext system, similar to France’s Minitel.

Alien movie released, directed by Ridley Scott. Graphical readouts of terrain, data etc. on the spaceship Nostromo flight deck computers designed by Colin Emmett, Brian Wyvill and John Landsown (and others), via System Simulation Ltd (SSL, not the US audio company) (UK). Some of these were re-used in Blade Runner (1982).

Sony Walkman portable cassette player.

Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) Sampling Sounds released in Sydney, Australia. This expensive system was extensively used by top musicians in the 1980s. It was the first commercially sold synthesizer and sampler and coined the term ‘sampling’ in music.

It was also featured on Electronic Music From The Outside In,  a Folkways Records in 1980 with composers Barton McLean and Priscilla McLean electronic classical album in 1980. The Kate Bush album Never for Ever was the first commercially released album to feature the CMI followed by Peter Gabriel’s self-titled album in 1982. CMI Series III ended in 1989, when Fairlight stopped selling the CMI.

All the top artists used the Fairlight in major studios through the 1980s. See ZTT, Trevor Horn (UK).

Visicalc arrived in the summer of 1979 for $100, for the the Apple II, which was $2000. People bought the computer to run this uniquely useful software.

Cat Hill Campus – early computer graphics centre, eventually became part of the Faculty of Art & Design Middlesex University, London UK. Geoff Davis (Micro Arts) completed his research Masters there (zooming interfaces), with Stephen Boyd Davis (see ‘History On The Line: Time As Dimension, Design Issues’, MIT Press 2012). Cat Hill art and design facility first opened with ‘phase one’ in 1970.

Middlesex purchased the first video framestore in the UK called the Bugstore, which had a video RAM (memory) of 0.75 Mb and cost £50,000. Director was John Vince who developed PICASO, a plotting system for art and design rather than CAD. A large amount of commercial animation work was produced at Middlesex Polytechnic during the 1980s and later. Used extensively by undergraduate Paul Ashdown who later worked on Jurassic Park and X-Men movies. John Vince is now Emeritus Professor in Digital Media at Bournemouth University.

Judy Malloy created a series of card catalog artists’ books (precursor of HyperCard and network art) that were exhibited as Judy Malloy 3X5, Visual Card Catalogs at Artworks, California in 1979. She also wrote and programmed The Woodpile (1979) and Hearst Strip (1980), and the famous Uncle Roger (1986).

Next 1980 Computer Art and Music