L ast summer, Matthew Epler was combing through the archives of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University when he found something remarkable. ITP, a master’s program that focuses on creative uses of communication technologies, has been archiving its students’ thesis papers since 1979. Among them, Epler came upon works from Computer Graphics Art, an obscure quarterly magazine that between 1976 and 1978 published dozens of examples of early “code art.” These images, generated directly from software developed by programmers, looked shockingly contemporary.
“For the past six months, this is all I’ve seen on Tumblr,” Epler, who is a graduate student in ITP, says. Unlike code artists of the 1970s, today’s artists often work in color, but the basic look—dominated by simple curves and repeating geometries—had changed little since the 1970s.