The Origin of Art and Technology Studies

A black and white photo of a hand hitting a key of an old computer. On the screen is an open mouth

Student work from the Art and Technology Studies department. Image courtesy of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Student work from the Art and Technology Studies department. Image courtesy of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

by Peyton Sauer (BFA 2022)

Before Art and Technology Studies [10] at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) became what it is today, the department took the form of two previous programs: Kinetics, established by Professor Steve Waldeck in 1969, and Generative Systems, founded by Professor Emeritus Sonia Sheridan in 1970.

And at the convergence of these two programs, a virtually unprecedented department was formed.

The art and technology programs at SAIC were among the first of their kind. Throughout the years that followed the establishment of these two programs, both Waldeck and Sheridan experimented with a variety of resources to keep up with ever-expanding technologies. Sheridan was experimenting with color copiers to create images informed by her artist residency at 3M. Meanwhile, Waldeck was the catalyst for establishing courses around new forms of light, like neon and holography.

In 1979, Waldeck’s Kinetics and Sheridan’s Generative Systems merged under the Time Arts Initiative, which included other disciplines, such as sound. Students undertook a variety of challenging projects, such as growing mold as an image-generating system and learning fax technology so that images could be created by singing into the machine. By 1984, the program was officially renamed Art and Technology Studies.


“The art and technology programs at SAIC were among the first of their kind.”


As the department grew, Art and Technology Studies faculty established courses such as computer animation and robotics. By the turn of the 21st century, they began offering courses around groundbreaking subjects like virtual reality and bio art, a concept introduced by Professor Eduardo Kac [11].

Today, after 52 years of expanding and exploring the intersection of art and technology at SAIC, the Art and Technology Studies department continues to reinvent itself. Through courses on social media platforms and coding, young artists are experimenting with both retro and cutting-edge technologies in order to create immersive works. Through their art, it’s clear the spirit of curiosity fostered by Waldeck and Sheridan is alive and well.