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The Art of Science
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Virtual Future of Art
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... But is it Art?

Computer Graphics and the Definition of Art

by Misha Caylor, with Debra Lowman and Margaret Watson

"Art hath an enemy called Ignorance."
Ben Johnson, Every Man out of His Humour, Act I, Scene I

In 1971, Linda Nochlin unearthed the primary reasons that there are "No Great Women Artists;" one was that the patriarchal art world for some time refused to accept the work of women, and another was that women were discouraged from entering the field in the first place. In the realm of traditional art, the former is still an issue, the latter is not. However, in the domain of computer graphics, the problems are reversed: women are not discriminated against in the industry, but perhaps due to subtle (external) societal influences, their numbers within the digital art population are scant.

In fact, the prejudice my colleagues and I have experienced during our studies in computer graphics has not been based on gender at all; the prejudice we have all felt at one time or another is one of medium. Although disdain for digital artwork has significantly dwindled within the commercial industry, we still feel its sting within the educational circuit wherein art history is given greater importance than art actuality. Most critics feel that computer art is devoid of content, that its appearance is too "slick," "steely," and "high-tech, [0]" or that its results are easily achieved by anyone that can operate a mouse; the most significant argument seems to be one that was once levied against photography: that the work belongs to science, and (therefore) does not belong to art.


Draping Fluid, Trina Roy with Jon Goldman, EVL, 1995.
CAVE(TM) simulation of the "Rayleigh-Taylor Instability" phenomenon, in which gravity is pulling a heavy layer of fluid down through a lighter one.

This argument may be archaic, but it plays an important part in our discussion of the relationship between computer graphics and the elusive, mercurial definition of "art." In the not-so-distant past, it was believed that since art and science are polar opposites, anything inextricably connected to one cannot possibly also appertain to the other. Not only has computer graphics disproved that art and science are mutually exclusive, it is continually proving that the two entities are far more closely related to one another than anyone imagined. In the future of computer art, the potential of Virtual Reality looms promisingly on the near horizon.

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Endnotes for Section 1

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0. "Art History and the Criticism of Computer-Generated Images" by James Elkins; Leonardo, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 335-342; 1994. Page 336.

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Last modified 14 February 1997