At a time when AI-generated art is in the news, the V&A Museum is taking a look back at the very earliest examples of pioneering computer generated art.

The art on display was all collected by an early collector of digital art, Patric D Prince who started her collection in the 1980s at a time when there was little interest in this new ephemeral art form.

Then as now there was the debate about whether art is art when it’s created by a computer instructed how to behave by a human. It’s, to my mind, as if someone were to argue that a painting isn’t a painting unless the artist also made the paint and canvas themselves. All artists use tools to create art, whether its a chisel, a paintbrush, or a computer keyboard.

Fortunately, Prince saw the appeal of digital art and started collecting, saving many that would otherwise have been lost. Prince died in 2021, and her collection was donated to the V&A Museum, and now some of her collection is on display.

There’s a mix here, and it’s a reminder of how much early computer art was so very obviously mathematical in its styles, often using repeating patterns and swirls. However, as computer power improved and artists turned to “painting” with computers, the art became more abstract and less obviously generated by algorithms.

It’s a small exhibition, but anyone of a certain age who grew up with early attempts at building computer graphics on computers that was often not really designed to show anything other than the written word will probably be a bit nostalgic when seeing it.

The exhibition, Patric Prince: Digital Art Visionary is at the V&A Museum until 15th September 2024 and is free to visit. You can find it on the first floor in the corridor between the Jewellery and the Theatre galleries.

A niggle, which I’ve noticed in the past about exhibitions in this corridor, is that the lighting in the display cases on the other side of the corridor reflects badly off the glass.


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