Charlottesville, Virginia: Paul B. Victorius, 1968. First Edition. Oblong octavo, 96 pp, illustrations of computer generated art throughout, some in color. Near fine publisher's red cloth, original dust-wrapper in good condition only (frayed along edges, large section on back missing, short closed tear - SEE IMAGES). Preserved in mylar sleeve. Near Fine / Good. Item #3465
First edition, now scarce very in private ownership. This collection of Sumner's computer artwork and lyrical descriptive prose is the first book on computer art, according to Jeremy Norman ("History of Information" website). Norman states that the book "appears to be the first monograph by a computer artist, and because it explains techniques, it is probably the first book on how to produce computer art" and notes that William Fetter's 1965 book on 'Computer Graphics in Communication' was focused on computer graphics used in engineering).
Sumner, one of the first American-trained artists to employ the computer, felt that the computer was the only "proper medium" to express the technological world. (Snow, p. 11). Indeed, Sumner was the first to use the computer solely for aesthetic means, and THIS publication "Computer Art and Human Response" was the first text devoted entirely to an individual computer art practice.
"He was also the first artist to sell substantial amounts of his work. In fact, in 1971 he funded much of his famous round-the-world bike expedition by selling computer artworks and lecturing on the subject. [SEE BELOW for description of 'The Long Ride']. Even with his success—he was exhibited in Cybernetic Serendipity—he does not feature in key histories of digital art. (Taylor, p. 119).
¶ As we learn from COMAPART (Center of Excellence Digital Art): "Lloyd Sumner (1943-1996) was an early computer artist in the USA, the first, perhaps, to try and make a living from the graphic works he made the computer to realise. He was represented at the Cybernetic Serendipity show (London 1968) as well as the Tendencies 5 (Zagreb 1969). His booklet 'Computer Art and Human Response' appeared as a private publication in 1968. It was another step in his decision to commercialise his art. In that book, he calls computers he was working with [the Burroughs B5500 and the Calcomp 565] 'his friends.' His works are characterized by smooth curves, moiré patterns, symmetry and evenly spaced lines. Randomness does not play an important role, most works are carefully calculated, nothing is left to chance. Comparing his oeuvre of geometric and, at times, figurative line-based shapes with other productions of the time, it stands out for a simple, searching, at times almost childishly naive style. He had access to computer hardware while working at the Computer Science Center at the University of Virginia. There he found a plotting machine of which no one seemed to know how to use. So he acquainted himself with it, and was soon producing computer art. Sumner said about computer art in general: "The computer artist is a reactor, not an innovator. He is an artist with a tool not a programmer with luck."
"Following the conventional model, Sumner’s book begins with a simple description of the computational process, but then moves to a poetic and lyrical style, which contrasts with the objective and goal-orientated writing of previous technologists. However, Sumner was acutely aware of the suspicion with which the orthodox art world regarded what was at the time a foreign and extraneous device. Sumner opened his book with a plea to the reader not to prejudge his art because of its mode of construction. Each image is accompanied by a short, often rudimentary musing on the work and its meaning. Overall, it is a highly romantic text. The humanist passages mix the personal and highly spiritual with the abstract and mechanical. Ideas of love, hate, and beauty are interwoven with science, space travel, and information theory. There is an overt optimism expressed toward technology. The computer and its peripheral devices become central gures in the art form." (Taylor, pp. 119-120 and passim).
¶ Funding for the publication of this was book was provided by Paul Victorius (1899-1970), a fascinating Charlottesville bookseller whose collection of Darwin and Evolution-related materials is at UVA. Two issues issues were published: a signed issue limited to 250 copies, and the present edition, which is also very scarce. As of this writing, ours is the only copy of the first (and only) edition on the market, signed or unsigned.
ADDED: a SIGNED copy of Sumner's little-known travelogue documenting his 4-year circumnavigation on a BICYCLE. The book was pubished in 1978 by Stackpole (Harrisburg, PA). We include this book in the present offering as it documents the incredible depth of this remarkable man.
C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 1959).
Grant D. Taylor, When the Machine Made Art: The Troubled History of Computer Art, in: International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics, vol. 7, 2014.