1955 - Our Computer Art Prehistory: Jeff
1955 Matthews Hall, Harvard College

In 1955 I was a Harvard freshman, living in Matthews Hall. I don't remember who got it started, but we installed a double pendulum in our stairwell. In the photo above I am on the left, leaning over, watching it draw. Don Knudsen is above me, Bob Richmond is next right and Nick Boone is kneeling down. I'm pretty sure Joel Blatt took the picture. There's another classmate, Rudd Canaday, who should be in the picture, but isn't. I don't remember why.

1955 Double Pendulum Drawing

The art medium was smoked cardboard. There were a lot of posters on Harvard bulletin boards, pretty good cardboard; nothing on the back. We gathered up some that were out of date and covered the back side with soot from a candle; the pendulum scratched fine lines with a straight pin. Much later I was told that it's possible to make a drawing machine without too much trouble, but the actual drawing mechanism can be tough to work out.

What you see above can be called modified Lissajous figures, the kind that were often seen on oscillscopes. But, in the drawing above they are not the nice, clean figures in books, probably because of the essential non-linearity of most any real physical process.

In 1955 I knew nothing about computers. I vaguely remember roommates saying something like, "let's go look at the computer." But, since I was a pure math person at the time, I didn't see the point so I didn't go. Probably the "computer" was Howard Aiken's Mark IV. Rudd actually wrote a program on a computer at Harvard in 1959.

Although Colette and I call what we do "algorithmic drawing," we know that we are part of a loose art movement called by the terms "computer art," "machine art," "mathematical art," "generative art," etc. Since the drawing above definitely falls within machine art and mathematical art, we see it as an important part of our prehistory.

In 1955 I knew nothing about Colette Stuebe.