two books


(This short piece was written by Bell to promote White Heat Cold Logic and A Computer in The Art Room to his colleagues at Bournemouth University)

In the late 1970’s as a post-graduate student in the Experimental Department at the Slade School of Art I was one of a privileged few who had direct hands-on use of a computer in the context of an art studio. In 2004 I was approached to write a chapter about that experience for a book on early British computer art. The book, “White Heat Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960 – 1980” (Brown et al. 2009) and another originating from the same research project at Birkbeck College, “A Computer in The Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950 - 80” (Mason 2008), describe a period referred to by Professor Charlie Gere as the “early, heroic, pioneering period of computer art,”(Brown 2009, p.1) and make it possible to place the experience of students at The Slade in the broader context of art and new media education history.

Both books demonstrate that the development of the use of computers in art and design in Britain was to a significant degree a consequence of the establishment of polytechnics and the enlightened support of initiatives in a few other institutions like The Slade at UCL.  The incorporation of previously independent colleges in polytechnics enabled artists, mathematicians, scientists and computer programmers to meet each other and fostered experimental interdisciplinary collaboration between visionary individuals.

Artists have now been using computer technology for over half a century and computers and computer graphics are ubiquitous, but in 1977 the Apple II had only just been released, we had yet to encounter Space Invaders (Nishikado 1978) and for most people the idea of art being made using computers continued to be controversial.

Things haven’t changed as much as one might think, there are still controversies surrounding the making of art using computers and there is still a need to support initiatives that enable inter-disciplinary experimentation. Apart from anything else these collaborations enable practitioners in different disciplines to understand each other a little better. These books may be about a history but they may also give us an idea of the potential effects of what we do now, and on what will have happened thirty years from now.

Colleagues in art, design, media and computing disciplines should find the books particularly interesting and may, like me, find that they can relate their practice to this history. They revealed to me how my experience as a student and the nature of my subsequent engagement in HE as a researcher and lecturer can be placed in a broader history of early computer art in the UK and that my approach to pedagogy can be seen not simply as an heuristic based on personal experience and intuition but as a part of a broader tradition within British art and design education. I recommend both books to anyone interested in art and design and new media education and the use of computer technology in art. Colleagues in any discipline developing new ways of thinking and working in HE will also find that there are broad lessons to be learnt.

Stephen Bell
April 2009



Brown, P., Gere, C., Lambert, N., Mason, C., 2009. White Heat Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960 – 1980. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Mason, C., 2008. A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950 – 80. Hindringham, Norfolk: JJG Publishing.

Nishikado, T., 1978. Space Invaders. [computer program]. Japan: Taito Corporation.