A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3 million hits| History of Science, Math & Tech | Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
I'm not sure how to investigate this right off-hand, but I think that there is a special category in the history of art, subcat history of art and technology, subcat history of computer art, subcat using the image of the computer in art. The image above comes from the front cover of one of the early issues of the "new" Physics Today magazine (volume 2, number 10), in October 1949--it is the artwork of Paul Bond, who created this portrait of a juggler "on a matrix sheet used for plotting computor [sic] plug board diagrams", and is one of 11 such images. It illustrates an interesting article by pioneers R.D. Richtmyer and N.C. Metropolis ("Modern Computing"). Richtmyer/Metropolis have a very sober approach to the computer--mostly speaking about the ENIAC--and address its romance, possibilities, but seemingly (to me) most of all "a need for defining the limits of computing machine operation, as well as its promise". In effect, then, the authors really only address the known quantities of computing capacity in 1949, and even though tempted by looking into the future, they really do not. Their vision of the future is very pragmatic: when speaking to future applications, they conclude "by their very nature, these applications are not easy to foresee, and perhaps, therefore, this is the point at which this discussion should close".
Certainly there have been much earlier images of automated steam-driven robots with some sort of calculating brain, and images of imaginative computer-like objects...but art made by the computer seems to come a fair bit later than this issue, later still than what might be considered the first art generated via the computer (which were images made from manipulating an oscilloscope) in 1952. In any event, I think at the very least that the Bond artwork is very curious, interesting, and probably very early for what it is.
I've addressed the ideas of early mechanical men elsewhere in this blog (just enter "robot" in the site search box at left and you'll find two or three dozen related posts on the subject), but failed to include this very fine and early example by William Heath in his March of Intellect series (printed from 1825-1829).
He was particularly bitter about what he saw as an aristocracy of official ruination, and created an unusual steam-driven mechanical man with a book-driven intellect that swept up the great "rubbish" and "dust" of society. At the top of this early robot (preceding the invention of the term by about 100 years) was a pile of books with a "crown of many towers", which was London University, beneath which was a set of gas-light eyes, iron arms, and legs made of printer's tools, sweeping away useless and insulting lawyers and jurists and their legal wigs and obsolete and repetitive rules, medical quacks, and the dust of other official abuses, "sweeping rubbish from the land".
Another near-robotic image by Heath is his pre-Rube Goldberg automatic house, a central feature in the March of the Intellect No.2 (1829) which features fantastic flying machines hovering and screaming past the house.
[Source: Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University libraries, here]
It isn't a robot unless you consider the entire house as a host for all of the things going on inside itself, and then you have something else entirely.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post [Image: work station for Vannevar Bush's visionary Memex machine, the grandfather of the intertubeweba nd hypertext. Source: http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/Hypertext]
Many have considered books and paradise and the ways to a great library and the correct books to read (and not read). Seneca was convinced of the efficacy of book on a shelf and their being much like a family, and Erasmus and others believing in books as libraries within themselves but without walls, and of course Borges and the infinity of books exceeding the size of the universe, perhaps having him come to the conclusion that hi sheaven would be a book. Thee are jusst a few examples of many--very few of all o fthese writers looked into the future at the book and the library. There was Kurt Lasswitz's 1901 novel The Universal Library (a source of inspiration for Borges' later work, The Library of Babelwhich was written in 1941); there was H.G. Wells' The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaediaand then the great Memex idea by the grandfather of the internet, Vannevar Bush, in As We May Think which was published in The Atlantic in 1945. And of course Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Libraries of the Futureby J.C.R. Licklider (1965) are also standouts. Perhaps though the tandout in the practical and possible vision of teh future library was painted by Charles Cutter in 1883.
JF Ptak Science Books (Expanding an ealier post #610 from 2010)
I am very attracted to the innocence and softly bizarre category of my store’s Naïve Surreal Collection, like this little pamphlet that came out New York in 1945. The titles in this category are odd but still understandable, and the "what the ____!" response to the subtle ones isn't quite so high and the exclamation points not so many as in the cases of the Naive Surreal titles.
Bizarre is just that, certainly not hiding behind any lesser or ambiguous title--it seems to be a parody of small magazines and their advertising sponsors, and copyrighted by the very far-reaching Hugo Gernsback, who in 1926 started the first magazine dedicated to the genre of science fiction (Amazing Stories) and for whom the World Science Fiction Society’s annual award for Science Fiction Achievement is named (the “Hugo”). Gernsback evidently had a taste for cheeky parody, producing similar magazines to this called Quip, Forecast, Jolliers, Tame and Newspeep.
I guess that this was deeply weird for mass-production publication, and it was probably funny--now it is just weird, odd, and somewhat discomforting--a successful and intentional reach for being part of the Naive Surreal right from the start.
The "Experimental Visual License" is a very nice turn-of-phrase, and it occurs in a technical and less poetic sense in this nteresting and nicely designed pamphlet from the earliest days of popular commentary on the new medium of television. The ABC of Television was published in 1937 by the exceptional and extremely busy Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967, basically the inventor of the SciFi magazine) in his Short Wave & Television journal.
The pamphlet includes technical basics ("fundamentals of scanning", "mechanical systems", "Cathode ray emission", transmitter operation") as well as some popular and necessary information, like "when will we have television" and a list of television stations.
Just for the record, this publication lists 25 active stations, including low wattage stations like W2XAX, the Atlantic Broadcasting Company, in NYC at 50 Watts--there were 9 broadcasters with 150 Watts or less of the 25 listed. There's also a list of nine other "discontinued" television stations ("experimental visual licenses and permits discontinued or expired"), which is where that phrase crackles into life.
Ted Nelson had a lot of ideas about computers, though not that many are remembered today, in spite of a bunch of them being pretty smart. (He coined the words "hypertext" and maybe "hyperlink", for example.) In any event there's this little diagram of the possibilities of his "world wide network", which I think no doubt is one of the earliest "maps" of the yet-to-exist internet.
[Picture source: Ted Nelson, Dream Machines (1974) via Alex Wright, Glut, Mastering Information Through the Ages (2007), p 215.]
It is also interesting to see that the frontis illustration for his book uses Tik-tok, a metal/machine character from a series of books by (Oz) L. Frank Baum, this one Tik-tok of Oz (1914).
Following this blog's series on the History of Holes and the History of Dots will be a new series: the History of Tubes, the first note of which is on the flying tubes of TomorrowWorld. Today's installment is a simple picture post:
It is interesting that a reporting agency like Poor's Industry Service would have such a provocative cover illustration when reporting on the not-so-good economic news of 1932.
Poor's presented the city of the future as the standard banner for their report on the motion picture industry. The city is massive, a portrait of concrete masses, especially seen in the dam or terminal in the immediate background, and also in the assembly of conical buildings at rear right. Very impressive, especially considering it was the fourth year of the Depression.
Their report on the film industry was crisp and fairly bitter, carrying on about risky behavior and out-and-out mismanagement, leading most of the studios into loses and the industry in general to a plunge in composite net earnings and common dividends--a poor year. In any even I was interested in the illustration, which seems an unlikely place to find such a severely International Style vision of the future.
What happened to art in the period before Impressionism that was made by people who needed glasses and didn't or couldn't wear them? The answer is obvious because, I think, nothing quite like that exists in galleries or public collections: people who painted but had poor vision were probably/simply told that they couldn't paint. If a far-sighted person without corrective specs attempted to paint a sunset over a forest, and painted it exactly as they saw it, and were doing this in 1787, there work undoubtedly would have been rejected as utterly failing in realism. On the other hand, the result of their work may have been beautiful collections of forms and colors capturing the essence of the forest and the sunset, but they would have been 50 years shy of the JMW Turner time, and 70 years or whatever shy of the Impressionists.
A person with poor or disturbed vision who tried to paint during this time would have been roundly scooted out of the palace of correct painting, though they could have been inspirations to generations of Barnett Newmans and Jasper Johns and Clyfford Stills and Wassily Kandinskys.
All this said, does something like Edvard Munch's The Voice (1893) start to look a little "different" if you imagine a far-sighted artist at work without their glasses?
Or a vision-impaired person producing Les Alpilles (1890) instead of a visionary Van Gogh?
Or a macular degenerating issue producing a painting like Georgia Okeefe's Light Coming on the Plains III (1917)?
Or a half-blind artist painting Matisse's The Open Window, Collioure (1905), simply painting exactly what they saw?
I don't think of revolutionary artworks in terms of their common ophthalmologic varieties--I just wanted to make a point about what happened to all of that artwork that was no doubt produced by people with impaired vision before the Impressionists and Fauves and non-representational artists came into being. I wonder if those who received J.M.W. Turner (as with, say, Rain, Steam, Speed--the Great Western Railway, 1844) so badly so early on in his career and so early in the History of Disappearing Details wondered whether he had a visual issue, or not?
And in a way, similar to the probably non-existent vision-challenged art of the past is the Robot art of the future--or at least the robot art of what was described by P.K. Hoenich in his article "Robot-Art, the Hopeful Monster" that appeared in two part in the unlikely journal Cybernetica in 1963 and 1964. It was with high hopes that I started reading this article wanting the author to address robots-making-art in the future. After all, my friend George Widener, who is a fabulously gifted artist, directs some of his fantastically involved calculating/numerical artworks to the interests of his robot-collectors of the future--given this case, why (if the robots are collecting) wouldn't they also produce art themselves? And why, if given the legions and multitudes of robots of the future couldn't they produce every recorded piece of art that has ever existed and then insinuate development and trends and institution and all of the other gifts of the singularity and produce all of the works of art that will ever be produced?
Well, Hoenich turns out to be describing "robots" of a very different sort, whether he uses the term "monster" in his title or not. He was broadly addressing a style of art that is produced by externally-controlled structures (mostly), and his particular brand was a mobile-like device with art bits whose movement was powered by the wind...and also used found spectra and sunlight. It was not what I was hoping for, the vision of robots-at-the-easels/keyboard/whatever remaining unfulfilled.
Still it was an interesting read, mostly in laying Hoenich in a continuum of similar artists whose "robots" were the wind (as for example with a Calder) or Nicolas Schoeffer (with spectacular luminodynamics) or Mohly-Nagy (with a combo of light and movement) or Arp (with chance painting) and maybe even Pollock. I guess even Duchamp could be included in a category like this if you considered his work to be governed by selective, found chance, a sort of choice-chance, for his Readymades.
So in a way these artworks were made by "robots" insofar as they were produced by not-exactly the artist but with external assistance.
"Squinting with Art" perhaps could have been the title of this post--squinting at your landscape to see it with semi-non-representational vision, and squinting at the titles of other works to make their possibility more appealing to what you 'd like to see.
There's an awful lot in this nihilistic-pro-socialism revolutionary Sci-fi tale of invasion and Armageddon and deliverance from mega-capitalists than I will make room for here, where "here" is an 1893 tales depicting 1903--I really just wanted to point out the pretty pictures of flying machines. (For a full summary follow the link above to a Wiki article on the book; also do follow the link for a short biography of the author.)
The future is everywhere and nowhere, hidden and obvious, localized and distant; and sometimes it is there when it really isn't, and vice versa. This image of the future is the last of these descriptions, though perhaps not even that, because it is a peep at a peep into the future, a reference to a reference.
First, the cactus, seen here, from G.B. Ramusio's (1485-1557) Navigationi et Viaggi, printed in Venice in 1565 (and finally in three volumes, links to which are below). Ramusio was a geographer and largely a scholar/reader/armchair-traveler, who collected travel accounts of explorers and published them together--the first such effort of its kind.
The second image works better if you squint somewhat while looking at the cactus--it comes from the great and slightly problematic Thomas Nast, the Harper's Weekly social/graphic warrior. The image appeared in 1881, and depicts New York City in the near future, he result of newly-advanced building techniques, including the elevator (and importantly!) the elevator safety brake, which allowed the construction of buildings to great and fabulous heights. Nast saw a little bit of overeager sky-scraping in it, and pictured variegated but probably dark future from the architectural commotion.
I'm well aware of this being an enormous stretch, but I couldn't think of anything else to get these two images together on a single post. (Original article here for the Nast.)
Full text for the Ramusio volumes from the Internet Archives site:
In the history of Mile High Things I doubt there are many entries for airports--or half-airports. This if not highly questionable structure inverted the horizontal concept of airport into something else, or at least changed the take-off into quite something different while leaving the landing strips the same. (This is the "half-vertical" part of the title to this post; "half-vertical" doesn't mean "horizontal", though I like that idea.) The new method of getting a plane into the air was straightforwardly breathtaking: haul the plane up one mile in an elevator and drop it through one of the "launching chutes". After everything is said and done, this is one idea that really didn't need to be three-dimensional.
There was a ride something like this on Coney Island that was very popular for years, a parachute ride where folks were hoisted skyward in a seat on a parachute and then dropped--a much better idea than this mile-high monster.
Here are a few other examples of Mile-High/Long Bits that are posts in this blog:
Herbert Hoover--perhaps a better classical scholar than president--famously promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage". Well, in this example of thrift and austerity, we see a summer cottage offered for sale for $375.00 (disassembled plus freight), with room for a car, and even for a family. A small family.
There are different types of mystery as any quick look at Medieval legacies will tell you. Some are mysterious mysteries never meant to be understood outside of obliqueness given their allegorically ambiguity, and some are just, well, different, but answerable.
The history of the future lends itself a little to the Ecclesiastical (or first) sort of mystery as just described--sometimes, anyway. Sometimes looking at an imagined future drawn years ago for a period of time that has already passed may lend itself to some fair-game comedy. But getting things "right" as a futurist/illustrator may be quite beyond the point, as with the example above, drawn by Jim Powers.
Being furiously correct was not the point Powers was trying to achieve. TO me he was drawing to a certain deep sight, presenting an allegory of possibility, trying to excite some interest in speculation in someone by elements of what he was drawing, not in the overall image.
In the alphabet of 'RAMAS, perhaps the most famous of them all is futurama, which (real or imagined) is part of the continuum of motoramas version of raceoram's spaceorama. It was in this envelope of futurama that Jim Powers worked his mysteries in a series of images for Life in the Year 2000, laboring away at insight in the mid-1950's. Surely he could0 not have believed in these rocket-stuffed ultra-streamlined mega-finned interplanetary autos would come into being in five decades, but I'm pretty sure that he believed that somewhere in the details of his work were useful bits/ideas for someone else. Surely he did not think that the overall vision was more significant than the sum of all of his very interesting parts.
That's the hopeful outcome in the opening paragraph of this urbano-centric tale.
In the piece of speculative fiction, "The Man who Unmade Cities" by George Holmes (found in Illustrated World, May 1916), a Mr. John Watterson becomes the ultra-Ford of aviation. Watterson introduces massive reform in airplane design and production such that the new machines are available to, well, everyone--instead of selling thousands of the new planes, millions are sold.
The story begins with Watterson in childhood, developing his flying interests and, by 1950, andhe becomes a world-beater, and destroyer of cities. The plane allows people to fly off, leaving the cities in swarms, and "within three years the motorcar was on its way to oblivion".
The revolutionary planes were "flimsy-looking", "dwarfish contraptions", "spindle-shanked", and so light "that a man could carry it" and "sold for a song of one's own singing", and were collapsable, carry-able, and capable of reaching speeds of 70mph.
And at the outset of this triumph "the great city was killed; John Watterson was triumphant".
But the article, reporting from somewhere in the near-future, reported that the city would return, benefiting from the need for closer stores, and the want for a walk, and the plummeting prices of evacuated city spaces--people were drawn back into the city in much the same way they were drawn out to the suburbs.