One of the joys of her writing the book was the artists with whom she would come in contact. Several posts will talk about these encouters. One of the interesting and wonderful things that occurred was that while Anne was teaching she sent a letter to John Scully, then the CEO of Apple Computer. One day out of the blue a number of boxes arrived that almost took up our entire tiny one bedroom apartment. What was inside? A treasure trove of Apple products!
I was proud almost twenty years later to introduce John Scully at the Brown University Entrepreneurship Forum, an event I cofounded with my classmate, Misha Joukowksy. While he did not know or remember me I offered him a heartfelt thanks for what he did for Anne.
Anne's book captured the attention of a bunch of different people including at the time the Technology Editor of USA TODAY.
Knowing me to be the techie fanatic that I am, you probably expect me to say that it's all about sitting in a highly air-conditioned room with a very fast Web connection, with maybe an ice-cold Molson in the hand that isn't occupied by a mouse.
That's number two.
When, as the Drifters report, the sun beats down and burns the tar upon the roof, I fall under the spell of an offline passion. The object of my desire is that constant companion since a time before my brain's neural network can clearly remember: A book.
Whether it's being read on a back porch or even a packed bus, a book is a talisman, a magical escape from the furnace that the world has become. If you have an interest in technology (perhaps even if you don't), you'll find no more refreshing page-turner than The Computer in the Visual Arts.
Written by Anne Morgan Spalter, artist in residence at the Graphics Group of Brown University's Department of Computer Science, you won't find it on national bestseller lists. And that's a pity.
You see, it poses as a text book, ostensibly dealing with the use of the computer as a tool in the visual arts. As such, the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, Pratt Institute and the Fashion Institute of Technology have started employing it for their computer art courses.
But to call Spalter's work a text book is like calling the Internet a mere set of electronic connections. There's an amazing richness waiting in either place for anyone who ventures in.
In Spalter's case, what we're invited to explore is the virtual connection between the mind and the digital canvas.
True enough, Spalter simply set out to answer the essential questions of visual artists and designers about the implementation of computers in their art. But in explaining the field's history, artistic theory, the relationship of software programs and the breadth of practitioners' works, she manages to provide a luscious intellectual feast even for non-practitioners.
The book's historical sweep is dazzling, taking us from the creation of the first fledgling attempts at computer art in the '50s (analog wave patterns photographed off the screen of an oscilloscope) to the applications of Postmodern theory to the reinvention of physics in strange, imaginary universes.
In the hands of an artist, the computer, once little more than a big Etch-a-Sketch machine, has become the "ultimate shape-shifter," in the prophetic words of researcher and artist Brenda Laurel, one of the many pioneers quoted by Spalter.
Along with the associated paraphernalia for printing, scanning and electronic viewing, the use of computers in the visual arts challenges our traditional views of artistic originality and the supremacy of elitist spaces such as galleries and museums.
What happens to our accepted notions, for instance:
- If a "copy" of a work is absolutely identical to the "original" because they consist of digitized "bits" of information (0s and 1s) rather than atoms?
- If such an infinitely reproducible work is displayed in a cybercafe as well as the Louvre?
In fact, an interesting illustration in Spalter's book suggests that. Artist Lillian Schwartz juxtaposed images of Leonardo's self-portrait and the Mona Lisa to reveal astonishing physiognomic similarities, convincing Schwartz that the famous painting was actually a self-portrait of the artist as a young woman.
I doubt that Leonardo himself would have passed up the opportunity to conduct such inventive visual analyses.
As an added treat for readers, there are literally hundreds of fantastic illustrations throughout the book. A fractal mountain on one page, an algorithmically-generated garden on another.
Powered both by images and ideas, the pages, as I said, just keep turning.
"After a decade of immersion in the world of computers, I now believe that the computer is a revolution for the visual arts," Spalter told me in an e-mail message. "It is my conviction that in a hundred years the current use of the computer to create images will be studied as a fundamental change in image making, just as oil paint and the camera have been in the past. What we are witnessing in studios and classrooms around the world today is history in the making."
The Computer in the Visual Arts
By Sam Vincent Meddis, USATODAY.com offers us a front-row seat to those revolutionary changes. If you're lucky enough, that seat can even be planted under the boardwalk.