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A Touch of History of Both Me and of Digital Art

James Cagney

I have been 100% digital since 2019. When I was in art school, back in the eighties, I took my university’s first computer art class. I participated in heated debates within the department about computers and art.

I had an Atari 800 with a disc drive and a drawing pad in 1983. I was no stranger to computers and was already dabbling in the digital world. I entered the fight knowing what was going on in the tech world and what potential it had.

The debates were this: should computers be used in art? The idea was that the computer would create soulless images that would never be art. Computers were the enemy. Mass producing images, made of little squares, limited colors and size, and tainted by maths.

I am a lifelong detractor of math. Hate the stuff. However, the computer does not create images by this ludicrous concoction of numbers. It doesn’t create images at all. It doesn’t create at all. the user creates. The computer is but a tool like a palette knife, pen or brush.

In the eighties this meant struggling with inadequate tools. There was little non-commercial software, what was available was incredibly basic and there was no decent way to display the digital creation. MOMA and a handful of other museums accepted it and dedicated to screens to display what they chose. Occasionally it was connected to a computer but normally it was presented via vhs tapes. there were haggard attempts to find a good way to print the files. Nothing stuck.

One mastered the software you had. One learned to abuse, contort, and bend the software to meet the imagination. Some artists began creating work thought impossible by the limitations of the tool. This growing idea of digital working its way into one’s process improved. Mixed media was the key. An artist could create images, print them or film them, and manipulate them through other media. Soon, it was recognized as art.

The first digital art began in the 50’s using oscilloscopes.

Oscillon 40 by Ben Laposky

Teletype was used in the 60’s as well as the invention of the light pen and CAD

The 70’s brought computer assisted drawing, a term created to better explain what the process was.

Untitled Computer Assisted Drawing by Paul Brown

The 80’s gave us the Macintosh, allowing the tool to go from this…

Flowers by Bernard Cohen

…to this in 2020

Van Gogh exhibit.

The tool the computer provides has irrevocably changed how we see art. The concept, the process, the viewing, the commerce of art has caught and and surpassed my adolescent imagination.

© 2021, mikegallagherart. All rights reserved.

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