Techart Conference

| 2021 TechArt Conference |

Session 1: Reconsideration of Image and Algorithm

The Artists at Utrecht: Artificial Intelligence and Early Generative Art

Taylor, Grant (Lebanon Valley College, US)


In 1988, in the historic city of Utrecht, Holland, the First International Symposium of Electronic Art was held. This organization, better known as ISEA, would become a leading force in the field of digital arts. But what defines the first symposium, other than attracting leading theorists and artists from around the world, was its special focus on artificial intelligence in art. At this memorable conference, three artists whose practice explored A.I. paradigms presented papers in a session entitled “Applying A.I. Techniques to Art.” Harold Cohen, Peter Beyls, and Roman Verostko all outlined diverse and highly innovative approaches to new forms of agency in art. Their presentations, later published in the journal Leonardo, become theoretical touchstones. My presentation examines the diversity of approach to early experimentation in A.I. and art. Starting with the widely celebrated artist Harold Cohen, I examine the program AARON, along with the robotic drawing apparatus, that became the oldest continuously developed program in computer history. With AARON, Cohen attempted to discover the nature of the creative act by constructing a counterpart to human cognitive processes that underlie the making of visual images. Whereas Peter Beyls would meticulous and exhaustively explore generative structure, based on artificial intelligence systems, through cellular automaton. For Beyls, the computational assemblage of cellular automata could become a new creative agency that was self-directed and possessed adaptability and reproductive capabilities. Finally, Verostko understood the generative power of computation in terms of a biological analogy. The artist’s tour de force was a drawing and painting program called Hodos which could be continually modified by integrating and refining new programmatic routines randomness, recursive, and self-similar behavior. Verostko’s highly experimental work with the pen plotter resulted in the invention of a mechanical drawing arm that mimicked the flow of the Calligraphic brush stroke.


Grant D. Taylor is Professor of Art & Art History at Lebanon Valley College and is the co-editor of International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics. Taylor has published widely on the history of digital art and curated a number of exhibitions, including the travelling exhibit The American Algorists: Linear Sublime (2013). His most recent book, entitled When the Machine Made Art: The Troubled History of Computer Art (2014), chronicled the reception and criticism of early computer art.