Collection Selection Boxes – Computer Art: Processes & Techniques

Our Collection Selection Boxes are a unique opportunity to handle original prints, drawings and photographs from our collection. These resources contain carefully curated material that introduces a particular period, style, material, or technique, and are available for individual study or group teaching.

Computer Art: Processes & Techniques

Today the term 'computer art' is mainly thought of as a historical term, referring to work produced during the second half of the 20th century, utilising early developments in computer technology. At the time the scholarly art world paid little attention to this work, partially due to the fact that the main practitioners were scientists and engineers, rather than formally trained fine artists, as mainframe computers could only be found in industrial or university laboratories.

These individuals were interested in the visual capabilities of computer technology, and though many works of early computer art might be considered minimalistic or even naive in their aesthetic, they required a tremendous level of technical understanding of the hardware that was used to produce them. As developments in computing accelerated and computers became more easily accessible, artists began to become acquainted with these techniques. By the 1970s, The Slade School of Fine Art, London, had become home to its own Computer and Experimental Department. Some artists even began to craft their own bespoke software, such as Harold Cohen's AARON.

The V&A began to collect computer-based artworks as early as 1969, when it acquired a set of prints published in conjunction with Cybernetic Serendipity, a landmark exhibition, featuring many early examples of digital art, held at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1968. The complete set was purchased by the V&A at a cost of just £5, equivalent to about £200 today. While the museum's acquisition files for the prints include a number of negative comments such as, "I am far from convinced about their aesthetic validity", today the prints are in great demand.

The V&A collected few further computer-based artworks until the 2000s, when an increased awareness of the significance of digital art and design led to the acquisition of two major collections. This leaves the V&A with an internationally significant collection of computer art dating from the 1960s to 1990s. The Patric Prince Collection contains over 250 individual artworks as well as supporting documentation. Patric is an American art historian and archivist of computer art and her collection included a large library of printed books, correspondence, photographs and ephemera in addition to the individual artworks. The Computer Arts Society (CAS) was established in London shortly after the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition, and in 2007 their collection of around 250 artworks, as well as their administrative archives, were acquired by the V&A.

The objects in this resource provide an overview to computer art and the ways in which artists have integrated computer technology in their practice from the 1960s onwards. It spans from the formative period of computer art, up to the 20th century where technology is considered ubiquitous in the production, dissemination and consumption of art and design.

There are two boxes available containing material related to Computer Art.

You can also view and download this resource as a PDF:

Box 1

Box 2