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Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code

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These days, we take for granted that our computer screens—and even our phones—will show us images in vibrant full color. Digital color is a fundamental part of how we use our devices, but we never give a thought to how it is produced or how it came about.             Chromatic Algorithms reveals the fascinating history behind digital color, tracing it from the work of a few These days, we take for granted that our computer screens—and even our phones—will show us images in vibrant full color. Digital color is a fundamental part of how we use our devices, but we never give a thought to how it is produced or how it came about.             Chromatic Algorithms reveals the fascinating history behind digital color, tracing it from the work of a few brilliant computer scientists and experimentally minded artists in the late 1960s and early ‘70s through to its appearance in commercial software in the early 1990s. Mixing philosophy of technology, aesthetics, and media analysis, Carolyn Kane shows how revolutionary the earliest computer-generated colors were—built with the massive postwar number-crunching machines, these first examples of “computer art” were so fantastic that artists and computer scientists regarded them as psychedelic, even revolutionary, harbingers of a better future for humans and machines. But, Kane shows, the explosive growth of personal computing and its accompanying need for off-the-shelf software led to standardization and the gradual closing of the experimental field in which computer artists had thrived.             Even so, the gap between the bright, bold presence of color onscreen and the increasing abstraction of its underlying code continues to lure artists and designers from a wide range of fields, and Kane draws on their work to pose fascinating questions about the relationships among art, code, science, and media in the twenty-first century.


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These days, we take for granted that our computer screens—and even our phones—will show us images in vibrant full color. Digital color is a fundamental part of how we use our devices, but we never give a thought to how it is produced or how it came about.             Chromatic Algorithms reveals the fascinating history behind digital color, tracing it from the work of a few These days, we take for granted that our computer screens—and even our phones—will show us images in vibrant full color. Digital color is a fundamental part of how we use our devices, but we never give a thought to how it is produced or how it came about.             Chromatic Algorithms reveals the fascinating history behind digital color, tracing it from the work of a few brilliant computer scientists and experimentally minded artists in the late 1960s and early ‘70s through to its appearance in commercial software in the early 1990s. Mixing philosophy of technology, aesthetics, and media analysis, Carolyn Kane shows how revolutionary the earliest computer-generated colors were—built with the massive postwar number-crunching machines, these first examples of “computer art” were so fantastic that artists and computer scientists regarded them as psychedelic, even revolutionary, harbingers of a better future for humans and machines. But, Kane shows, the explosive growth of personal computing and its accompanying need for off-the-shelf software led to standardization and the gradual closing of the experimental field in which computer artists had thrived.             Even so, the gap between the bright, bold presence of color onscreen and the increasing abstraction of its underlying code continues to lure artists and designers from a wide range of fields, and Kane draws on their work to pose fascinating questions about the relationships among art, code, science, and media in the twenty-first century.

38 review for Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    A fascinating history of new media art as seen through the development of color. I read this over the xmas break and really enjoyed it, both for its discussions of artworks I for the most part wasn't yet familiar with, and for its discussions of algorithmic culture in general. Digital colors are so ordinary to us today that we rarely stop to think about their algorithmic nature. Dyes, paints and crayons and even analog photographs and film reproduce color, but color in television, video and comp A fascinating history of new media art as seen through the development of color. I read this over the xmas break and really enjoyed it, both for its discussions of artworks I for the most part wasn't yet familiar with, and for its discussions of algorithmic culture in general. Digital colors are so ordinary to us today that we rarely stop to think about their algorithmic nature. Dyes, paints and crayons and even analog photographs and film reproduce color, but color in television, video and computers is generated from nothing but code, whether that code is digital or analog (p. 70). We even generate colors that the human eye cannot see, such as infrared or ultraviolet. The bulk of Chromatic Algorithms is devoted to a history of the development of synthetic and algorithmic color, and of our understanding of color, from the classical color theories of Aristotle, Goethe, Kant and others, through the first uses of DayGlo fluorescent dyes (p. 44-57), generative color synthesizers in early video art (chapter 2), web 2.0 color conventions (p. 196-199), the ‘dirt style’ of retro web art of the last few years (p. 199-206), and to the use of colors that cannot be seen by humans in nature, such as infrared (chapter 6) and ultraviolet and even the use of synthetic fluorescent proteins in transgenic bioart (p. 283-287).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm Balch-Crystal

    A unique and fascinating examination of electronic art and new media, with just enough philosophy to scratch the critical theory itch. I only wish it came with online access to the works it mentions - many of them are held in private collections or in galleries and museums that either only exhibit them in public occasionally, or ask $1k+ for a personal copy. Also, on the off chance that another computer programmer reads this review, there is no discussion of algorithmic theory in this book. If yo A unique and fascinating examination of electronic art and new media, with just enough philosophy to scratch the critical theory itch. I only wish it came with online access to the works it mentions - many of them are held in private collections or in galleries and museums that either only exhibit them in public occasionally, or ask $1k+ for a personal copy. Also, on the off chance that another computer programmer reads this review, there is no discussion of algorithmic theory in this book. If you're looking for technical discussion, this book does not dive very deep.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Torbjørn

    Great read. My only complaint is that the material on early film colors is rather imprecise and lacklustre.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Erik

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karl Erickson

  6. 5 out of 5

    Grandeurs

  7. 5 out of 5

    John O'Neill

  8. 4 out of 5

    Karl

  9. 5 out of 5

    cyd hebbard

  10. 4 out of 5

    Irina

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

  12. 4 out of 5

    Miles

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

  14. 5 out of 5

    Spencer Yan

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alexandrea

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  19. 4 out of 5

    Diana180

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rand

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Achten

  23. 5 out of 5

    Moneera

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael Chung

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adam Mulligan

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeeves Williams

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Hamnett

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Corpuz

  30. 4 out of 5

    792681357431324

  31. 4 out of 5

    Godiva Reisenbichler

  32. 4 out of 5

    David

  33. 4 out of 5

    Scott Fitzgerald

  34. 5 out of 5

    Guido Corallo

  35. 5 out of 5

    CM

  36. 4 out of 5

    Evan

  37. 5 out of 5

    Eye Summers

  38. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Pante

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