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Barbara London
Associate Curator

Department of Film and Video
The Museum of Modern Art

Where Artists
Dare to Go


During the 1980s computers emerged from their engineering shroud. Art schools, anticipating a new form, incorporated computer art within their curricula. More important, the attitude toward computers changed. Once feared as a challenge to human claims of superior intelligence, the computer assumed the benign role of helpmate. Despite this headway, the uses of personal computers remained rudimentary. Besides business applications, games and word processing were the most popular software packages.


The urge to act rather than simply perceive-- to be part of the show rather than to sit passively in the audience -- is reflected today in the mushrooming of radio talk shows and audience- participation television programs. The strident self-interest of the "me" generation has mellowed, but the desire to make one's mark is still with us. New art forms developing around the computer are the latest to promise a widely accessible means of self-expression. In the area of graphic design, for example, the computer has brought art within the reach of every computer aficionado. (Most of the results, however, are no more sophisticated than the output of paint-by-number kits.)


Computer cowboys now gallop across the Internet in a virtual stampede. At the same time artists are interpreting the new relationship between humans and machines. People talk to a thinking machine, their computer; people communicate with other people using the Internet; and people look at art i incorportating many electronic/mechanical devices. The lack of established venues for this new media has lead me to search for artists in little known places. I root for art that is new and unformed.


    In the 1990s, multimedia and modem-based connectivity have attained widespread acceptance. An expanding variety of hardware and software encourages users to assemble a unique selection that transcends utilitarian requirements. The Museum of Modern Art's Technology in the 1990s lecture series examines the art forms that are emerging from this fusion of minds.


    Perhaps the computer will follow the same trajectory that moveable type has since its invention in the mid fifteenth century. Both are developments that wed art, commerce, and the fundamental human aspiration to communicate. Several arts quickly formed around printing; many handsome books were produced, but bookbinding and the designing of typefaces have more in common with craft than with art. The great art that printing fostered is the novel. Printing helped to develop a reading public and provided the means to reach it. The process required one hundred and fifty years, from Gutenberg's invention of the printing press to the outpouring of novels that followed the publication of Cervantes's Don Quixote in 1605.


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