Computer Art Too Often Is Fixated on Its Technology

Art made by computer seems a contradiction. Art informed by the human spirit seems redundant.

Two current shows demonstrate, however, that the former is viable and the latter is a refreshing anomaly in a contemporary art scene clouded by sneering cynicism.

Can the computer, an instrument of artificial intelligence, produce art of genuine feeling? Only when it is used as a tool and a medium, and not a substitute for creativity. Both approaches are in evidence in “Imagine,” a show featuring more than 50 works created on personal computers.


The show, at United States International University’s Walter Library (10455 Pomerado Road, through Aug. 6), makes a strong case for computer art’s potential, though few of the 20 artists represented have made full use of it.

Computers have revolutionized graphic arts, and much that attempts to pass for art here is thick with the technical wizardry that prevails now in print advertising and television commercials. Illustrational fantasies of intense color and impossible perspectives tease the eye but offer little to the mind or spirit. Their flashy effects testify to the sophistication of the technology used--including such programs as Macpaint, Pixelpaint and Imagestudio--and the artists’ unsophisticated use of it as both medium and muse.

Too many of the artists here are mere technicians. The technology they engage in is the raison d’etre of their images; their work boasts of what they can do but reveals little of what they have to say. Martin Speed, for instance, translates well-known paintings by Magritte, Picasso and Leger into black and white digital patterns, but for no apparent reason than as a technical exercise. Speed adds nothing--neither personal interpretation nor formal enhancement--to the images, while he sacrifices their subtlety, color, texture and, most of all, their expressive purpose.

Three prints by Marius Johnston suggest the formal richness possible through computer imaging. In both “Dog Day” and “Guardians,” figures emerge from and disintegrate back into a storm of pattern. Sketchy strokes of soft, muted colors overlay the fine, mosaic-like prints and give the images a rare sense of mystery and restraint.

Few artists in the show address subjects of substance, and even fewer do justice to such themes. However, Roger Preston and April Greiman both create provocative work that shines in this context and could easily hold its own in the company of other media.

Preston’s “Murdered” evokes the tragic efficiency of the Nazi regime through a chain of forms--skulls, swastikas, shuffling figures--that move around the page in a numbing, staccato rhythm. In “Sorrow and Comfort,” he belies the rigid anonymity of the computer medium with a gentle, humane portrayal of two Holocaust victims. Preston’s sensitivity to his subject and the crisp clarity of his technique combine to form powerful visual statements.

Greiman turns a mirror to technology itself and questions the meaning of progress. Her engaging, 6-foot-tall print, “Does it Make Sense?"juxtaposes the basic human unit, a standing female nude, with a montage of words and images referring to the scientific and historical origins of contemporary life.

The mighty and the mundane receive equal billing here, from the birth of the solar system to the invention of the aerosol can. With clever, self-reflexive wit, Greiman uses the newest visual language to meditate on the nature of progress and the relative value of its products.

The exhibition as a whole steps tentatively into the same rich territory. Described as an “evolving” exhibition, “Imagine” showcases the products of a medium that has yet to make a strong contribution to the fine arts, despite its profound impact on communications, research and most other information systems.

Commercial applications have dominated the use of computers, as they have the young medium of video. As with video artists, those using computers have been seduced by the medium’s broad technical capacities, and have focused on this with a narrow self-indulgence, proving that even the dazzling can be tedious.

“Imagine” was organized by Michael Gosney, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Verbum Journal of Personal Computer Aesthetics, published in San Diego.

At the Friends of Jung (3525 Front St., through Monday), a small show of drawings by local artist Frank Daniels puts a finger on the world’s pulse, not by means of high technology but by probing the psyche of a single individual. The show, titled “The World Around Us Is a World Within,” propounds the Jungian notion that parallels exist between nature and human endeavor.

In the series “Tornadoes of India,” for instance, Daniels uses a sinuous cyclone motif to cut through each image, interrupting a chaotic field of plumes, dashes and dots.

“The explosiveness of tornadoes has always reminded me of the sudden violence, the erupting brutality of man,” Daniels wrote in an accompanying note. Like the abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, who underwent Jungian therapy, Daniels’ personal explorations double as explorations of the collective unconscious. And, like Pollock, Daniels relies on intuitive, automatic gestures to flood his pages with organic forms and meandering, calligraphic lines.

Daniels’ drawings manifest an inner search, and, as such, they are earnest and intimate. Though many are unremarkable in form, they nevertheless offer a stirring reminder of the power of art to broaden the mind and heal the soul.

Such a positive, nourishing approach is decidedly out of fashion in today’s art world, which instead glamorizes the snide, cynical and coolly impersonal.