Lillian F. Schwartz, born in 1927, is a 20th century American artist who is best known for her established work with computers. In 1970 Schwartz had paid homage to Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” when she had worked on her first computer-appropriation piece. In the mid 1980’s Schwartz had appropriated Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, the purpose of this was so that she could examine Van Gogh’s use of colors and composition. While living in Japan in the early 1950’s Schwartz had become influenced by Utagawa Hiroshige’s “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo” after she had studied woodcut works done by Hiroshige, Katsushika Hokusai, and Kitagawa Utamaro. ¹
Schwartz is a pioneer whose life had contained hardships, such as poverty as well as she became paralyzed when she was younger. Schwartz was still getting treated when she found the precise practice of working with pen and ink, from oils to kinetic metals to 2D/3D. ²
Schwartz became inspired by several well known artists, more specifically their artworks, she had studied over the years such as Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”, Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, Utagawa Hiroshige’s “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo”, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, and various other artists and their work.
When it came to working on her first computer-appropriation piece, her homage to “Nude Descending a Staircase” by Marcel Duchamp, Schwartz had had not used imagery that could be identified as Duchamp, and instead had used abstract imagery. According to Schwartz, Duchamp had a “desire to break up forms-to decompose them much along the lines the cubists had done. But I wanted to go further….”. ¹
Schwartz had gone on to say that “Duchamp stated that he aimed for a static representation of movement. Since this method of appropriation stems from a concept rather than an image, I did not scan Duchamp’s “Nude” into the computer to create “Homage”, but constructed my work based on the overall idea of Duchamp’s original work. I adapted a program, intended for drawing integrated circuits, to draw triangles in explicit locations…. Just as Duchamp shifted and overlaid a photographed figure to create movement in abstract shapes, I arranged the triangular shapes to represent motion in “Homage” to Duchamp”. ¹
There were similarities between Schwartz’s homage art piece versus “Nude Descending a Staircase” but as she had said herself she did not scan Duchamp’s piece into the computer to create her own piece, her work was based on Duchamp’s larger intention of his work.
Schwartz said herself that she appropriates artists and their works, for example when she had mentioned appropriating “Nude Descending a Staircase” and saying that “this method of appropriation was appropriation of an idea rather than an image”. ¹ Although there are some similarities of Schwartz’s “Homage” and Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” it is seen more as her getting inspiration, influence, from these artists versus what art appropriation is defined as.
However, Schwartz’s artwork was more than appropriation. Her artwork had shown the effect the advancement of technology over the years and the invention, and history, of the computers has been not only a tool for her and the work she creates, but how technology has continued to affect the art world.
“With each new advance in computer technology I have continued to search for different ways to appropriate ideas, compositions and palettes as sources for inspiration-to create new visual imagery or to study great works of art with the purpose of understanding the artists’ intent”. ¹ Schwartz uses the technology of computers to get her ideas of art appropriation as well as gets inspired for the new pieces she creates or to study remarkable artists and their own art.
Through studying Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” Schwartz had found that computers had proven to be very beneficial. Even though she had altered the original piece the “purity” of the original had not been lost it had been preserved. When Schwartz had color-corrected Picasso’s “Demoiselles” she had the tools to fix the detail and to remove the color from “Demoiselles”. She had been able to adjust the detail and color because of the advancement of computers. When it came to Hiroshige’s woodcut work as well as Van Gogh’s rendition of the woodcut piece Schwartz had arranged the works alongside each other on the computer to compare them and be able to view the work.
What these examples, as well as other examples, of her work and the work she had been appropriating from as well as had been inspired by, shows when it comes to the history of computer art is how much technology has advanced with the tools we can now use as well as the effect it has on not only the art world but the world as a whole.
- Lillian F. Schwartz, “Computers and Appropriation Art: The Transformation of a Work or Idea for a New Creation,” The MIT Press Leonardo, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1996), pg. 43-49
- Lillian F Schwartz. Biography http://lillian.com/biography/ (2013)
- Homage – Something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another (Merriam-Webster)
- Appropriation – Intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of existing images and objects. (MoMA)
Schwartz, Lillian F. “Computers and Appropriation Art: The Transformation of a Work or Idea for a New Creation” https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1576277.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fdefault-2%252Fcontrol&refreqid=excelsior%3A1cf5166206568a76ba591de287ec1609 (1996)
Schwartz, Lillian F. “Biography” http://lillian.com/biography/ (2013)