Cynthia Beth Rubin
The History of Computer Graphics and Digital Art Project
Describe your field. Why are you interested in Computer Art/ Computer Graphics and what (event, need, idea, hope, obstacle) caused your involvement? Summarize your line of development (the essence of your input to the field) in relation to concurrent technology.
Computer art is my natural medium because my work is about the reconstruction of experience, as revealed through balanced juxtapositions and unexpected combinations. The true medium of my work is color, but color has to carried by a vehicle, and paint, my first mode, proved to be less in keeping with my thoughts. I first worked digitally at the urging of the Dean of the Faculty at Connecticut College in 1984, where I was teaching Color and Painting. I became aware of pioneer work in 1974, when I was working on the Dartmouth College campus, and playing volleyball with computer-types.
Does the computer allow you to think visually about some topic or process in new ways? How has this influenced your work? Describe your ultimate accomplishment.
My work is about juxtapositions, about creating complex relationships among disparate elements that, when taken as a whole, reveal a kind of narrative or non-linear description of the experience of thinking, feeling, and reacting.
The computer is the ultimate juxtaposition tool. Before working on a computer (20 years ago!) I was cutting stencils and blocking out parts of evolving paintings just so that I could artificially arrive at the same surprise of juxtaposition of materials that is so natural in the computer.
Not only has the computer allowed me to naturally intertwine images, it has expanded my visual vocabulary. Source images can come from photographs, they can come from scans of unrelated but visual interesting objects, they can come from my own paintings. In the digital world I can explore the range from realism and recognizable imagery to highly expressive abstractions, and put all of these elements together in creating a coherent, unified work. This is a radical change. Few artists possessed this range before computers, we defined ourselves as working in abstraction or realism, and fought argued which was more meaningful.
Has the field of computer art and graphics progressed in the ways that you expected? What has surprised you? What do you like about its progress and what do you wish had happened differently? What do you think the future holds for visual computing in science/art? Please make some predictions or wish lists for the near- and long-term future.
On a recent day I was logged in directly to a collaborator's server. All day long, until some network administrator closed the door, I sent large files to him as I worked. It was fabulous. We each had our own space, miles apart, with our favorite computer, listening to our favorite music, living our chosen lives, and yet we could communicate as artists in nearly real time. I would not want this to too immediate - I dread working with a hologram of some one who invades my space. I just really like having a little window on the screen to another world, where another artist takes my work to another dimension and then sends it back again.
As for visual computing in science, the person who can convince scientists that we have more to offer than good drawing skills is yet to be born. Artists know color, texture, form, and the comparative visual weight and relationships of diverse elements, but scientists are not ready to hear this from artists.
Describe your dream environment for enhancing your project ideas. What are your preferred tools for creating and how do they work? What tools (hardware/software) you have used initially had the strongest impact on your work?
The tools that I first used are paint, and the full gamut of drawing materials. These continue to influence my work, but not as media that I want to mimic inside digital media, but rather as media that I am happy to leave behind. I made messes in paint. It got away from me. The layers and juxtapositions that I love to make on the computer became over-worked pools of would be expression, dimmed by the physical limitations of paint.
The first computer that I used was an Artronic, which was a dedicated system beautifully designed to be a comfortable environment for artists, with a drawing tablet, and a second monitor for menus, leaving the evolving image isolated on the screen. This was in 1984, and the slow writing to large, vulnerable floppies was less than ideal. I was thrilled by the flat vibrant colors, and I still believe that working 8 bit in the beginning was a plus. Even the jaggies of the days before anti-aliasing provided an interesting texture. The prohibitive cost of early scanning made drawing into the computer obligatory, and I never thought of the computer as a medium for the mere correction of photographic material.
My dream environment is less private than the isolated life of the contemporary digital artist. I want interactions with other artists in related (but not identical) areas, I want collaborations that are made easy by more understanding of what it is that visual artists actually can do, and the many strange paths that lead us to creativity.
The digital world is getting too complicated, and I no longer want to know it all. I want to exchange ideas, be stimulated, be creative, and contribute to making engaging work.
Describe how you think specific advancements in technology, such as wireframe, hidden line removal, scanner, laser, HTML, Java applets, or any other advancement determined the way the approaches to creating art/graphics evolved?
The scanner has had the biggest impact, without question. It has not all been positive. Combining canned filters with quick scans has produced an army of digital image makers, and the arrival of inexpensive digital cameras has only extended the perception that the computer has the brains, not the artist. But for the creative person who is willing to take it a few steps further, the new ease of input is wonderful. Anything can be a texture, any image can be repurposed to be anything else. Meaning is once again the responsibility of the artist.
Faster processing has also had a great impact on both 3D imaging and moving images. I used to tell students to bring a book to read on the day that we were rendering draft images of 3D forms. Now we can play in near realtime. The 3D world has not yet caught on that they need the imaginative textures of the 2D artists, but we are a hair away from some great stuff. The same is true for video. Videographers are still using the tools to edit clips, but soon the world of overlays and creative, complex relationships will hit and we will have a creative explosion!
How would you characterize the milestones (every ten years) in the development of computer technology? Which ones were most influential in art/graphics?
- 1974: Images made with little “x”s that I saw at Dartmouth College. I thought about these for 10 years, even though I declined (foolishly) the invitations to make images out of “x”s myself.
- 1984: The emergence of dedicated systems for artists, like the Artronic. Those of us who were aware of the possibilities from the start, but not thrilled by programming “x”s, now had our medium.
- 1994: Standards in graphics formats began to solidify. This enabled artists to work more fluidly from one software to another, taking still images to video, photographic images to paint programs, and working between 2D and 3D. Most important was the standardization of QuickTime, which, as I remember, was just emerging in 1994. No more frame to frame animation, fewer nights spent sleeping on the floor next the computer with an ear out for the end of rendering of tiny segments for frame to frame output.
Which persons would you indicate as the pioneers in the particular areas/stages in which decade?
We do not know who many of the pioneers are—they often did not find their way to the forefront of the paths of recognition of the time. Some people associated with industry (usually their own companies) got their work out, and influenced the development of new products. Judson Rosebush and Char Davies come to mind here.