Philosopher Hiroshi Kawano is a pioneer of computer-generated art who created his first algorithmic images in 1964 and wrote extensively about the application of computers to visual art and music. He devoted his life to researching computer-aided aesthetics and teaching at several universities, and remains an influential figure in the history of Japanese computer art.


Further reference:
Hiroshi Kawano Archives | ZKM

Fushun (China), 1925 – Kobe (Japan), 2012

Born in Fushun (China) to Japanese parents, Hiroshi Kawano moved to Japan in 1935. Between 1948 and 1951, he studied philosophy and aesthetics at the University of Tokyo. He graduated with a thesis on aesthetics, then continued his studies on the philosophy of science. From 1955 to 1961, he was a research assistant of Professor Toshio Takeuchi at the Department of Aesthetics at the Faculty of Letters at the University of Tokyo. During this time he discovered semiotics and symbolic logic through the writings of Max Rieser and Susanne K. Langer, and around 1961 he read Max Bense’s Aesthetica series, which had a profound influence in his later work. In the following years, while a lecturer in the Faculty of Art at Nihon University, Tokyo, he wrote several articles on information aesthetics and the possibility of using computers for creating visual compositions.

In 1963 he started to teach himself how to program computers and wrote his first programs for the OKITAC 5090A computer. The following year, having been granted access to an OKITAC 5090A at the Computer Center of the University of Tokyo, he creates his first computer-generated images. In September 1964 he publishes an article in the Japanese IBM Review showing examples of computer-generated graphics. In the following years, he published his first book, Aesthetics (1967), and met Max Bense at the Waseda University in Tokyo. He also collaborated with Shigeru Watanabe, professor at the Department of Engineering, University of Tokyo, who invited him to the meetings of his research group Computer-Based Art (CBA) and to the first Japanese computer art contest, which took place in Tokyo in 1968.

In the 1970s, Kawano took part in several exhibitions of computer art in Tokyo, Zagreb, and Montreal. He also published several articles on computer-generated images and the application of computers to music, while working as Professor of Science of Art, Information Science, and Computer Programming at the Metropolitan College of Technology in Tokyo. In 1978, he visited the LOGO Group at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he met AI pioneers Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert. In 1984, he wrote the book Computer and Aesthetics: Searching for the Art of Artificial Intelligence, with which he obtained his PhD from Osaka University. Between 1986 and 2006, Kawano continued his work as professor and lecturer of Information Science and Computer Graphics in several universities in Japan. In 2006, he organized the exhibition 20th Century Computer Art: Beginnings and Developments. The Work and Thought of Pioneers and Contemporary Practitioners of Algorithmic Art at the Tama Art University.

In 2010, Kawano donated his personal archive and all works of art he owned to the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, which also acquired his library. In 2011, the museum hosted a retrospective exhibition of his work titled Hiroshi Kawano. The Philosopher at the Computer.