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Computer Art: Creativity and Computability (Half Day)
Frieder Nake, University of Bremen, Germany

Key Questions

What lessons can we learn from studying the history and some of the techniques of computer art? Why does computer art emerge in the mid 1960s, not earlier, nor later?  What are important places where it first happened, and how do they differ? What is the role of randomness for computer art and, therefore, for creative behavior? How are intuition and creativity related? What is similar and different in the development of computer art in the US and in Europe? How has the art world reacted to the emergence of digital art?


Participants will gain insight into an astonishing phenomenon that emerged more than fourty years ago from a cross-over of algorithmic and artistic thinking. They will be thrilled by observing how, under totally different conditions of technology, constructive and creative principles got applied that are still valid even though technology has leaped forward in huge jumps. The study of computer art will provide an understanding of the ground-breaking paradigm shift from computability to interactivity, which goes beyond the limits of computer art. The main benefit should be a deep feeling for the beauty of a discipline of computing, and for the precision of the experience of artistic creation.

Key Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Better understand the intricate relation between ideas and tools, and how this relation influences creativity,
  • Develop a new view of the computer as a semiotic machine and a specific medium,
  • Gain knowledge about key players, important events, and their consequences for computer art and the art world,
  • Gain an overview of a lot of facts pertaining to computer art,
  • Engage in group work on the contradiction of randomness and intuition,
  • See how creative behavior may be fostered when we, occasionally, leave our own field of expertise to get an inkling of the neighbours’


No particular background is required but a good deal of curiosity and openness would be helpful. The tutorial will address:

  • Students and teachers from the arts and computing disciplines in general,
  • Those students, teachers, and practitioners who are already interested, or even working, in advanced digital media but would like to gain an understanding of the roots and origins of what they are doing,
  • Scholars, critics, and generally interested persons, who are in doubt about the promises of digital art and culture but would like to enter an historic argument that connects current practices with an art history background.

Everybody who enjoys a lively situation with exchange of ideas and surprising connections of the mind, and those who like meeting the experience of a person who has been active in the field for over fourty years, should not be disappointed.


Frieder Nake has been known as one of the pioneers of computer art. He has been active in the field from its first days. He has had a recent retrospective of his early algorithmic works and new interactive installations at Kunsthalle Bremen (Germany) and ZKM Karlsruhe (in 2004/05). He is an editorial advisor to Leonardo and Digital Creativity. He is a professor of Computer Science at the University of Bremen, and currently also a lecturer at University of the Arts Bremen, International School of New Media Lübeck, and University of Basel, Switzerland. His current interests are focussed on computer art and digital media as well as semiotics and computer graphics.

Supplementary Description Material

Content, Presentation Style and Duration

The tutorial will cover half a day only which does not allow for much of didactic experimenting. It will be divided into three sections of mainly lectures with visual presentation in between. Questions will be encouraged, and controversial discussion is hoped for.

A. The heroic period of computer art. The most important events, artists, and techniques will be presented, commented on, and linked to art history as well as computing.

B. Three case studies. Three well known artists will be presented through selected examples of their works. We will discuss them and draw comparisons and connections.

C. Theses on the contradictions of creativity and computability. Short presentation and discussion.

Each of the three blocks of one hour length will be a sequence of introductory lecture with visual examples and discussion. Part of the time will be spent by participants working on materials handed out to them so that the learning experience will be through exemplars but generalized in summary statements. We will procede from purely algorithmic works to interactive ones, and always pay attention to the computability / creativity stance. Participants will receive a set of course materials supplementing the specific topics covered during the half day.


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