A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80, by Catherine Mason

A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80
by Catherine Mason

with a Foreword by Professor Clive Richards, Coventry School of Art & Design

published by JJG: 2008

This book uncovers the little-known history of early British computer arts. An amazing story, it is hard to comprehend that before the onset of personal computers, propriety software and the internet there was a real struggle for access which touched off an explosion of true British pioneering spirit. The art schools which played a crucial role in fostering these important cross-disciplinary digital collaborations are described for the first time here, along with over 140 illustrations, many not seen in print before.

Based on four years of research and numerous interviews with practitioners, the book introduces British artists in the post-war period who were inspired by science and began to consider the use of computing. They found the requisite technology and expertise at innovative art schools including the Royal College of Art, the Slade School of Art and regional polytechnics. The battle for acceptance may have been won but the provenance of computer arts and its direct links back to cybernetics in the 1950s and 1960s is a unique and previously unpublished period of art history. These pioneers had a real vision of the arts and sciences coming together for greater understanding and creativity on both sides. With the opening chapters titled “White Heat” and “British Art Postwar” the nine chapters conclude with “Computer animation” and include biographical essays on the likes of Roy Ascott, Richard Hamilton, Edward Ihnatowicz, Darrell Viner, Stephen Willats and other protagonists. This develops into a scholarly source book laced with exciting elements of artistic adventure.

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About the author: Catherine Mason began researching the history of British computer arts at Birkbeck, University of London, funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council. In 2006 she produced Bits in Motion, a screening of early British computer animation, at London’s National Film Theatre. She has contributed to Futures Past: Twenty Years of Arts Computing published by Intellect, 2007 and White Heat, Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960-1980, to be published by MIT Press, 2009.