A Computer in the Art Room

Catherine Mason

Publisher JJG
ISBN 978-1-899163-89-2
RRP £25.00
Reviewed by James Poxon MBCS CITP
Score 10 out of 10

A Computer in the Art Room This book really is a hidden gem. Written as a definitive guide, the book gives a detailed insight into the collaboration of art and cybernetics in Britain from the 1950s to the 1980s.

With a historical focus, the author concentrates initially on the growth of the avant-garde artistic movement and the early computer industry, then moves on to give a fascinating view of the artists who took the technology of the time and consistently pushed the limits to produce the artworks they envisaged.

The narrative contrasts the difference between the conservative computer science establishment and the difficulties faced by pioneering artists who learned not only to use the computers of the time, but to write their own code and even build their own equipment, paving the way for the computer graphics industry as we know it today.

As a computer history archive, the book is extremely detailed. With over 140 photographs and highly detailed research, the book is beautifully put together by an author who is clearly a leading authority on a branch of art surprisingly overlooked by the majority of art historians.

Computer history aficionados will find this book fascinating, as the book covers many early computing systems and the software used to drive them, from the earliest teletype machines through to the ATLAS mainframe and Altair micro-computers.

The penultimate chapter will appeal to most IT professionals of a certain age, as it focuses on the development of early computer animation, such as the Channel 4 logo and the ground-breaking Nostromo computer displays shown in the landing and docking sequences in the film Alien.

Describing the links between art, education and computing this book is by no means limited to the IT market and will also appeal to educationalists and art historians alike. The book is very well written and includes detailed biographical narratives of the leading figures in computer art development in Britain. 

Whether interested in art or not, this book is appealing on a number of levels, and is strongly recommended to anyone with an interest in computing history.

Further information: http://www.catherinemason.co.uk/

February 2009