Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first message being sent over the internet.  On this date in 1969 a small team in a UCLA lab sent a message over a network of ARPANET computers. 

Once the concept was proven, ARPANET quickly exploded into today's global internet.

The internet is most famous for conveying the Illustrationart blog to a needy world.

However, some have expressed dismay that so much of the promising new technology is devoted to trading nekkid pictures.  Looking back, this was to be expected: in 1956, during the infancy of the computer age, the first human likeness to appear on a computer screen was a pin up illustration by George Petty:

Cathode ray tube screen of an experimental military computer developed to fight the cold war

1956 Esquire magazine calendar page by George Petty.  Va Va Voom.
As computer journalist Benj Edwards reported, "During a time when computing power was so scarce that it required a government-defense budget to finance it, a young man used a $238 million military computer, the largest such machine ever built, to render an image of a curvy woman...." 

The technological revolution, from Polaroid cameras to betamaxes to camcorders to cell phones to blogs, has never strayed far from this central theme.  People now ask: Have all these tools corrupted our values by spreading such scandalous pictures?

33,000 years ago during the infancy of art, our ancestors used their new tool called "drawing" to decorate their cave with pictures of the human vulva.  In a riveting paper entitled, "Context and dating of Aurignacian vulvar representations from Abri Castanet, France," a team of (male and female) scientists recently detailed how-- even without the benefit of the internet-- prehistoric people drew vulvae all over  the ceiling of their cave.  Another artist, lacking paper, etched a vulva on the molar of a woolly mammoth.

This urge wasn't limited to drawing; prehistoric sculpture followed the same theme-- the first known sculpture of a human was a naked female.

In light of this long tradition, it's surprising that the internet is ever used for anything besides naked pictures.

Okay, but you ask: what about the ominous future?  New artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies threaten to erode the distinction between truth and lie. These so-called deepfakes can falsify historical events and corrupt our political dialogue.   Spread over the internet they could start wars, topple governments, and undermine science... but apparently not just yet.  A recent survey indicates that 96% of deepfakes are not about any of these things, but rather about sex.  


Ignacio Noé said...


Meera Rao said...

Fascinating !!! Thanks for sharing it in such a wonderful way :) I remember reading about Arapanet with awe so many years ago !

kev ferrara said...

Thought provoking post.

My response would be: No doubt we all have our base side and we are all weak. But this is the very reason why porn, politics, and other empty and distracting sensation-calories are so detestable as 'content.' Meanwhile our "better angels" wander the wasteland looking for any hint of positivity, nutrition, or the reinforcement of some kind of wholesome value system.

I don't think George Petty's work qualifies as smut. Even though he's not exactly the best Artist of the cheesecake realm, his females are still aestheticized, so to speak. There are still suggestive abstraction at work that allow us to understand that we are looking at a fiction that has its own reality. I think his work doesn't deserve, either technically or spiritually, to be casually lumped in with pornography.

On your concluding point, I think the infinite scalability of digital information goes beyond even the pareto principle in terms of the possibility of effect size. Or, more starkly; 0.00001 percent of infinity is still infinity.

David Apatoff said...

Ignacio Noé-- Thank you, it's nice to have you here; I'm an admirer of your work.

Meera Rao-- I'm glad to hear that you share my reaction to these wonderful and curious facts. Thanks for writing.

Kev Ferrara-- I agree that George Petty's work isn't "smut" but then, I don't find any of the material I've discussed here to be smut. Anyone who hopes to exclude salacious content from art is going to be kept awfully busy, starting 33,000 years ago. They may get to The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by the year 2372.

I think George Petty is one of the better pin up artists, certainly better than Vargas. When I saw how this woman's right leg is disconnected at the hip, I thought of your comment, "I overlook mimetic errors made in imaginative good faith all the time." The leg makes no anatomical sense but Petty's picture is better off for it.

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Untitled said...

Dear David,
Great article. What can one say, it's the most basic human instinct.

I have a request. I was cleaning out our old home and found a favorite childhood storybook. Childrens stories by Lev tolstoi. illustrated by A. Pakhamov. He was a celebrated soviet artist. Please do write an article on him. There is a wiki page on him.
Thank you!

comicstripfan said...

Agree this entry is thought-provoking - the George Petty reference led me to "The Pin-Up Files" and to Petty's amazing 1935 Esquire rear image of a "lady on the phone with an automatic" - perhaps as sensuous as anything he's done.

Unknown said...

This makes me wonder if you have ever done a post on the question of where the line is between porn and "humanist" art (i.e. Michelangelo) that elevates the nude body to a place of reverence and awe as opposed to objectification. That would be an interesting discussion.

Reech said...

Well consider the new technology of stereoscopes (new at least in the 1850s). Baudelaire writes in 1859: " A little later a thousand hungry eyes were bending over the peepholes of the stereoscope, as though they were the attic-windows of the infinite. The love of pornography, which is no less deep-rooted in the natural heart of man than the love of himself, was not to let slip so fine an opportunity of self-satisfaction. And do not imagine that it was only children on their way back from school who took pleasure in these follies; the world was infatuated with them."