interviewed 30 July 2003 by Kartic Subr
Rick Barry teaches
at the Dept of Computer Graphics and Interactive Media, Pratt
Institute, Brooklyn, NY. He chairs "Courses" at SIGGRAPH
|What first drew
you to computer graphics?
My introduction to CG was due, in part, to
the emergence of desktop publishing. For a special occasion
in the late 70s, my wife asked my stepson, Daniel, whether
he wanted a large party or a large gift. He chose the gift:
an Apple IIe. Up to that point, I had no interest in computers
and minimal interest in technology. I'd been a professional
graphic designer, illustrator and art director, and I could
see little practical use for these early personal computers.
Yet, for some reason I still can't quite fathom, I found
myself intrigued by the green, blinking prompt and the whirr
of the huge, dual floppy drives. I began reading reference
books on Apple DOS and Apple BASIC, and magazines like Byte
and Nibble (I kid you not). Before long, I was using Daniel's "Tooey" for
all of my business records and correspondence. But it remained
useless for professional design.
When the Macintosh was introduced in 1984 with real typefaces
(incorrectly called fonts), I could see the potential for
professional use. And though the accompanying 90 dpi ImageWriter
printer was wonderful, it still didn't produce text and graphics
of professional-quality resolution. But when the LaserWriter
appeared in 1985, everything changed for me.
I took out a loan for a new Mac and LaserWriter (an arm
and a leg), and within a few months, I'd incorporated them
into my design studio. I designed, co-edited and produced
one of the first desktop-published newsmagazines (MacTimes).
I changed my business name to DeskTop Design Studio. I introduced
the computer into the creative and production structure of
a large Madison Avenue ad agency. In short, I began a new
career as a "digital" designer, illustrator, consultant
and instructor. All of this took place within a couple of
years of my LaserWriter purchase.
This experience, in turn, introduced me to the larger world
of CG, to special effects, to gaming, to interactive media.
And of course, to SIGGRAPH.
|Do you have any
favorite CG mentors?
||Not the usual ones. From a distance, Steve
(The Woz) Wozniac. Loretta Jones, who was running the new CG program
at the School of Visual Arts in the mid-to-late 80s. I'd already
admirer of her digital art when she called and asked me to
teach for her.
Isaac Kerlow, who founded the CG program at Pratt Institute
and hired me away from SVA.
Bert Monroy, a fellow Brooklyn boy who blew me away with his
early adoption of, and enthusiasm for, digital art. He still
Jim (Jimbo) Kingston, who demonstrated that elegant Beziér
curves could be created from an input device that reminded
me of a horse's hoof (a mouse).
|What was the first
time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?
I joined the New York City ACM SIGGRAPH Board
of Directors in 1996. My first major contribution to the
SIGGRAPH conference was in 1998, when my Binary Biker Project
was featured in the Outreach venue. This was an amazing project,
involving a collaboration between Pratt Institute (me) and
the School of Visual Arts (Bruce Wands), and a small crew
of wonderful people.
Starting at the Guggenheim Museum's "Art of the Motorcycle" exhibition,
specially-rigged motorcycles were ridden from Manhattan to
Orlando, documenting the journey with digital video and photography.
This imagery, along with an online diary, were posted daily
to a web site, where artists were invited to download the
images and use them to create original art, then submit their
art to an online gallery for jurying. The Binary Bikers juried
the works while en route, and sent the selected work ahead
to the Guerilla Gallery for digital printing.
When the bikes arrived at the convention center, one of
them was ridden directly inside (much to the chagrin of the
setup crew) and strapped down in the center of our exhibit
space. Attendees could sit on the bike and watch a re-run
of the journey's highlights on the rear-projection wall.
Another wall was covered with prints of the juried art. And
a third wall was furnished with computers connected to the
web site for attendees to examine, and to contribute their
own art. It was a great success, and a wonderful memory.
was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why?
||My first SIGGRAPH was in 1995, in Los Angeles.
It was quite an eye-opener.
But obviously, the 1998 experience was the most intense.
to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of?
||Without question, the SIGGRAPH 98 and the Binary
Biker Project and the SIGGRAPH 2003 Courses Program.
|How does it feel
to be appointed chair of courses at SIGGRAPH 2003?
|I feel honored. I also think it is a testament
to SIGGRAPH that an artist was appointed as Chair of Courses.
|So what is new
this year at the courses?
There were two new things we tried this year:
1) In place of the previously costly Creative Applications
Lab (CAL), we tables inside a wireless session room so
that attendees could bring their laptops along, or rent
them. There were many issues to be addressed in order to
make this happen, but fortunately our careful planning
and determination paid off.
2) The Monday morning course in the dome of the Fleet Science
Center in Balboa Park was a huge success.
|What do you think
of SIGGRAPH 2003 overall?
I'm definitely prejudiced because of my involvement <laughs>.
However if I were to be totally objective about it, I'd say
it is GREAT.<laughs>
|That is interesting.
What do you think of the importance given to art at SIGGRAPH?
Maybe a fair way to respond to that is as follows:
SIGGRAPH is primarily a technical conference. I believe that
it should never lose the integrity of that core mission.
It is a technical conference that supports art, and inspires
the art to be technically innovative. This distinguishes
it from purely digital art conferences. I think SIGGRAPH
is evolving and I am grateful to ACM for this. Art doesn't
have to be given 51% importance at the conference. I think
SIGGRAPH is one of the few major annual venues for digital
artists held in North America. Europe and Asia seem to
be ahead in that respect, with more support for the arts.
Look at the way the sciences tend to be supported. Investments
by both the public and private sectors are based on the belief
that eventually those investments will pay off. Unless there
are mechanisms that enable the arts and sciences to explore
and evolve, they will stagnate and die. SIGGRAPH is vitally
important to both the arts and sciences because it supports
the integrated evolution of both.
|What do you think
about the confluence of art and technology at SIGGRAPH?
||Well, there has probably always been a love-hate
tension between artists and scientists, and I think that is
for the good. It inspires art to be technically innovative,
and science to be imaginative. This creative tension is rarely
expressed in negative ways; good artists respect good scientists
and vice versa. Since SIGGRAPH is where the best digital artists
and scientists meet, I think it's just wonderful.
|Would you rule
out the possibility of some programs being works of art?
||Art might simply be defined as a work which
earns one's respect because it connects with one's humanity.
You might doodle on that pad and walk away, and if someone
picks it up and responds to it emotionally, intellectually,
viscerally, or all of the above -- it might be considered art
to that person. In my view, however, it isn't art unless it's
creator intended to transcend the simple act of making something.
And even then, it might not be art. A talented artist might
put their heart into the creation of a work, but if it doesn't
do anything to anyone -- if it just doesn't make that connection,
then I'm not sure it's art.
So, to answer your question, yes, some computer programs are
not simply art; some of them are masterpieces.
do you feel now?
||Great! I'm ready to party. We have a reception
set for tonight and I can't wait!