The dawn of digital art really began with the invention of the first computers.
The ENIAC was the first electronic general-purpose digital computer built in 1945, and it was large enough to fill a whole room. Art began entering the computer scene in the late 1950s to early 1960s.
In the 1950s, many artists and designers worked with mechanical devices and analog computers, which began the start of digital art in a computer space.
One of the earliest electronic works is ‘Oscillon 40’, which dates from 1952. Using an oscilloscope, Ben Laposky controlled electronic waves and displayed them on a fluorescent screen. By photographing them, he was able to capture these images and record them for history. Laposky photographed different combinations of these waves and called his images ‘Oscillons’. Though the earliest photographs were in black and white, years after the image was first captured, Laposky used filters to produce colorful images.
At the beginning of the 1960s computers were still in their early stages of development, and access to them was not widespread. The only facilities that could afford them were universities, research labs, the military, and some large companies. Artists did not have access to computers at first because of the cost, and the first people to use computers creatively were scientists and mathematicians. In order to use these types of computers, you would have to know how to write programs as there was no pre-existing software or applications on them.
Towards the end of the 1960s, basic art forms began to arise. Computer engineers devised a paint program that was used by the pioneering digital artist Harold Cohen. This became known as AARON, a robotic machine designed to make large drawings on sheets of paper placed on the floor.
Most plotter drawings and early printouts were black-and-white, although some artists, such as Frieder Nake, produced colored plotter drawings. Much of the early work focused on geometric forms and on structure, as opposed to content. There were also limitations in the types of output devices available at the time. For example, pen plotter drawings tended to be linear, with shading being achieved through cross-hatching techniques.
By the 1970s, many artists had begun to teach themselves to program, rather than relying on computer programmers. Most of these artists came from a traditional fine art background, not a scientific or math education. Even pieces with simple designs and patterns required immense planning and programming. Here are some images and additional information about digital art created in the 1970s.
The 1980s is when digital technology became far more widespread, and it became engrained as a part of everyday life. Computers were no longer limited to research and major corporations, they made their way into many homes throughout the world. The widened availability and the creation of preloaded applications lead to a boom in artistic creativity.
A piece of artwork created in the Macintosh program, MacPaint in 1984
Artists and designers working with computers are less likely to use the term ‘Computer Art’ in this period. Computers are just one tool among many that artists use interchangeably in their practice as they incorporate this technology into their practice. There is a general trend toward artists and designers working in increasingly interdisciplinary ways. Most artists move away from using only one type of media to present and create their artwork.
Early 2000s- Today
Today, digital art continues to change and evolve as new technologies are developed. Some digital artists work with lighting systems like LEDs; others mix computers and sounds in installation. Digital technology is one more medium for artists to express themselves and explore ideas. Many new types of media incorporate digital art including video games, music, videos, as well as interactive digital art exhibits. You can check out all types of digital and NFT art on NFT art marketplaces.