Terminology: How Much Does It Matter?

We are booked for an appointment at the Tate Reading Rooms to access the ICA Archives on 6 March! Hopefully there we will learn more about the British computer art scene during the late 1960s – early 1970s.

So far, our research has led us to ponder questions of the historicity of computer art. Every article on the 1970s computer art scene we’ve come across has implied the art historical community’s collective unease with classifying the works we are studying in this project: are they really art? It seems the jury is still out. Oddly enough, artists today rely increasingly on digital media and the art historical community, while grappling with issues of authenticity, does seem to agree that these technological works fall under the category of ‘art.’ Why, then, is there such a reluctance on behalf of critics and art historians alike, to question the art-status of computer art created during the field’s formative years?

To add some more food for thought, a quick Wikipedia search called up a long list of ‘Systems Art’, or ‘art influenced by cybernetics and systems theory, which reflects on natural systems, social systems and social signs of the art world itself’ (Wikipedia). Within ‘Systems Art’ there is ‘Generative Art,’ or ‘art that has been generated, composed, or constructed in an algorithmic manner through the use of systems defined by computer software algorithms, or similar mathematical or mechanical or randomised autonomous processes.’ One could say Crabree’s work falls under the latter definition, based on what we know about computer programming in the early 1970s so far.

However, would Crabtree label his work in such a way, or would he even label it at all? While Art History tends to classify artists by the movements to which they belong, there has been little evidence of the pioneering computer artists discussing their identities as artists, or engineers, or both. There seems to be a push away from self-conscious considerations of artistic identity despite the proliferation of such formal groups as EAT in the United States and the Computer Arts Society in Britain. Why?



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