As a Tool for Creativity and Imagination, the Computer's Usefulness to Artists Is Growing Computer Art Goes from Mechanics to Aesthetics

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WHEN Barbara Nessim, a professional artist in New York City, began working with computers 10 years ago, some of her colleagues called her a "traitor to art" and said she was "too good for gimmicks."

But after 10 years, many of them have made an about-face: Those who said they'd never touch a computer, Ms. Nessim says, are now saying "they absolutely can't live without it!"

Nessim's experience is a sign of the computer's growing usefulness to artists as a tool for creativity and imagination. Artists, picking up where the computer graphics engineers leave off, are helping to raise artistic standards and "legitimize" the medium in the formal art world.

Nessim is one of 500 artists from 20 countries who submitted their work to this year's SIGGRAPH Art Show, held during the August conference of AMC-SIGGRAPH, one of the world's leading associations of computer graphics researchers. The show reflects an unprecedented level of artistic maturity among the entrants, say show jurors.

"People have gone past tinkering with technology and are using it as a form of expression," says show juror Michael Ester, director of the Art History Information Program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "People are really exploring very personal themes, cultural issues, even a few political statements."

A scaled-down, traveling version of the art show is on view at the Computer Museum here through January 1991.

According to Patric Prince, chairwoman of the traveling art show and juror, "the works submitted were far more inventive in terms of art content. This reflects the number of artists using the technology." More artists with personal computers are using the growing number of "off-the-shelf" programs or other systems that do not require programming skills, she says.

"There are many more players. You don't have to have a fellowship at Bell Labs to be a computer artist," says Oliver Strimpel, executive director of the Computer Museum.

Here at the museum, some computer artists have used three-dimensional modeling programs to create realistic lighting or atmospheric effects, such as Kenneth Snelson's futuristic "Forest Devils' Moon Night." Others have scanned photographs into a computer and then manipulated them or combined them with contrasting images. …

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