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  • Commentary on “Digital Art and Experimental Color Systems at Bell Laboratories, 1965–1984”, and: Response by Carolyn L. Kane: Towards A Feminist Media History
  • A. Michael Noll (bio) and Carolyn L. Kane (bio)

Readers’ comments offering substantial theoretical or practical contributions to issues that have been raised in Leonardo are welcomed. The editors reserve the right to edit and shorten letters. Letters should be written in English and sent to <leonardomanuscripts@gmail.com>.

COMMENTARY ON “DIGITAL ART AND EXPERIMENTAL COLOR SYSTEMS AT BELL LABORATORIES, 1965–1984”

The 2010 Leonardo article by Carolyn L. Kane about digital art [1] has factual errors and theses that do not seem to be supported by the facts. The paper fails to distinguish clearly between computer graphics, digital art and “experimental color systems.” Computer graphics (including color) and digital art were supported at Bell Telephone Laboratories during the 1960s, and the art sometimes helped stimulate innovation in the graphics technology.

This critique lists and refutes the paper’s theses and lists some of its factual errors.

  1. 1. The abstract claims that work in “digital art and experimental color systems” done at Bell Labs “was hidden from the public.” That is not correct. I had over 12 papers published about my research in computer art and graphics during the 1960s. Each went through an extensive approval process at Bell Labs before being submitted for outside publication. One was even published in Dance Magazine. I showed my computer-generated animations at universities and to the dance community in New York. In 1965, the Howard Wise Gallery exhibited a computer-generated picture by Bela Julesz and me.

  2. 2. The paper states: “Why the management at the Labs failed to see any value or future in experimental computer graphics is debatable.” That is not correct. In 1966, William O. Baker (Vice President, Research at Bell Labs) arranged a conference at Bell Labs for academics called “The Human Use of Computing Machines,” at which computer animations were shown. In 1968, AT&T made a documentary movie featuring experimental computer graphics research, including a sequence from a computer-generated ballet. The short film, “Incredible Machine,” was shown in movie theaters throughout the United States.

  3. 3. The paper states: “Thus if any project suggested the scent of art or non-telephone research, the Labs’ administration attempted to suppress it”; and later “if a project was too ‘edgy’ or too far beyond ‘telephone communication,’ as it was then defined, it was thwarted”; and also “the bureaucratic sectors of the Labs’ management” did not support digital art. All that is not correct. Management at Bell Labs supported research in computer art, animation and music—including Baker and John R. Pierce, executive director of the areas in which the work was done. All my many published papers on computer art were reviewed internally and approved; Kenneth C. Knowlton had several papers published about his computer art and graphics research and spoke at conferences throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

  4. 4. The paper claims that the “artwork and color systems made during the 1960s and 1970s at AT&T’s Bell Labs have been for the most part lost or forgotten.” That is not correct. All my published papers relating to art and graphics are on my website, along with links to my computer-animated films. Knowlton, working with metallurgists at Bell Labs, made computer-produced movies of theoretical crystallographic phenomena, in which color was essential for differentiating among types of atoms. Some of Knowlton’s computer-animated films are at the AT&T Tech Channel on the Internet.

  5. 5. The paper claims, “Bell Labs saw no future in color graphics and thus took no interest in patenting new developments.” That is not correct. The 3D force-feedback device that I invented was patented [US patent 3,919,691]. The raster scanned display system (initially black-and-white and then color) was the subject of a published paper [2] and a patent that was abandoned at the Supreme Court level. Among Knowlton’s 10 patents, 5 were graphics related, one of which concerned an early computer system for raster films [US patent 3,609,670].

Some small factual mistakes in the paper are as follows:

The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 83-85
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-21
Open Access
No
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