An essay on the relation between Photoshop and the history of art, and a proposal for a book to be called The History of Photoshop.


Graphical ray tracing, when it was introduced in the 1980s, unwittingly repeated methods that had been introduced in the first two centuries following the inception of linear perspective.

In the late 1980s, when this essay was first drafted, one of the most advanced methods in computer graphics involved the direct application of algorithms from fractal geometry.


With current computer processing, ray tracing is often unnoticed, but many of the routines descend from algorithms written in the 1980s.


Art History and the Criticism of Computer-Generated Images


This was published in Leonardo 27 no. 4 (1994): 335–42 and color plate.
This essay is dated: computer graphics has come a long way since 1994! However the basic argument remains pertinent: art history can contribute to the understanding of computer graphics, because the software that makes graphics possible is influenced by the history of art. Palettes, blurring routines, perspective choices, sharpness settings, and many other components of image software come from the history of art, either explicitly (as in "mosaic filters") or at several removes (as in the perspectival decisions made in video game design). Even now, art historians are only just beginning to take the history of computer graphics on board as an integral part of the discipline. (For example Inge Hinterwaldner.)
A book called The History of Photoshop is urgently needed. (It's been needed for ten years, and even more now that it's become the default image tool for artists.) The book would detail the ways that the routines in programs like Photoshop are inspired, often indirectly and without the programmer's intention, from episodes in the history of art. The History of Photoshop would demonstrate that Photoshop is not a black box, but is integrally related to the deeper history of art. If such a book were written, and if it were read by graphic designers, it could go a long way to integrating art history and theory with graphic design. If you are familiar with image processing routines in Photoshop, you know the relevant code, and you might be interested in working on such a book, please contact me.