Lillian Schwartz is best known for her pioneering work in the use of computers for what has since become known as computer-generated art and computer-aided art analysis, including graphics, film, video, animation, special effects, Virtual Reality and Multimedia. Her work was recognized for its aesthetic success and was the first in this medium to be acquired by The Museum of Modern Art.

Her contributions in starting a new field of endeavor in the arts, art analysis, and the field of virtual reality have been recently awarded Computer-World Smithsonian Awards. Schwartz began her computer art career as an offshoot of her merger of art and technology, which culminated in the selection of her kinetic sculpture, Proxima Centauri, by The Museum of Modern Art for its epoch-making 1968 Machine Exhibition. She then expanded her work into the computer area, becoming a consultant at the AT&T Bell Laboratories, IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory and at Lucent Technologies Bell Labs Innovations. On her own, and with leading scientists, engineers, physicists, and psychologists, she developed effective techniques for the use of the computer in film and animation.

Besides establishing computer art as a viable field of endeavor, Schwartz additionally contributed to scientific research areas such as visual and color perception, and sound. Her own personal efforts have led to the use of the computer in the philosophy of art, whereby data bases containing information as to palettes and structures of paintings, sculptures and graphics by artists such as Picasso and Matisse are used by Schwartz to analyze the choices of those artists and to investigate the creative process itself.

Her contributions to electronic art analysis, and restoration, have been recognized, specifically in Italian Renaissance painting and frescoe. Her work with colleagues to construct 3-dimensional models of the Refectory at Santa Maria Grazie to study the perspective construction of Leonardo’s Last Supper and, more recently, a finite element model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to aid in the preservation of the tower in understanding its structure, have proved invaluable to Art Historians and Restorers.

Schwartz’s education began immediately after World War II when she studied Chinese brushwork with Tshiro in Japan. Over the following years she studied the fine arts with professionals such as Giannini, Kearns, and Joe Jones. She is self-taught with regard to film and computer interfacing, and programming. Schwartz has always had close ties to the academic community, having been a visiting member of the Computer Science Department at the University of Maryland; an adjunct professor at the Kean College, Fine Arts Department; an adjunct professor at The Rutger’s University Visual Arts Department; an adjunct professor at the Psychology Department, School of Arts and Sciences, New York University; and is currently a member of the International Guidance Panel, under the co-sponsorship for The Society for Excellence Through Education, Israel, Teachers College, Columbia University and S.A.G.E., and a Member of the Graduate Faculty of The School of Visual Arts, NYC. She has also been an Artist in Residence at Channel 13, WNET. Schwartz’s work has been much in demand internationally both by museums and festivals. For example, her films have been shown and won awards at the Venice Biennale, Zagreb, Cannes, The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and nominated and received Emmy nominations and award. Her work has been exhibited at and is owned by museums such as The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Centre Beauborg (Paris), Stedlijk Museum of Art (Amsterdam), and the Grand Palais Museum (Paris).

Representing the United States, Schwartz has been a guest lecturer in over two dozen countries, ranging from the Royal College of Art in London to the US/China Cultural Relations speaker in the People’s Republic of China. Schwartz has also had numerous other fellowships, and honors conferred upon her, including a Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa from Kean College, New Jersey, and grants from the National Endowment For The Arts and The Corporation For Public Broadcasting. Most recently she has received Computerworld Smithsonian Awards in three categories: For the Application of the Computer as a Medium in the Arts, including Graphics, Film/Video, and Special Effects; pioneering work in the field of Virtual Reality; and for her contributions in special editing techniques in Media and Arts & Entertainment.

She has been the subject of numerous articles, books, and television news and documentary programs. She is a Fellow in The World Academy of Art & Science. She has been appointed as a committee member of the National Research Council Committee on IInformation Technology and Creativity under the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of The National Academies from May, 2000 to December, 2001. Schwartz is the author (together with Laurens R. Schwartz) of The Computer Artist’s Handbook, W.W. Norton & Company.

It’s a Lonely life — Lillian Schwartz by Hanzhang Shen

Comments by Patrick Purcell – London,England
Fundamental to Lillian Schwartz’s art is the need to experiment.
Schwartz’s concern with the creation of new visions is almost always based upon
an intellectual approach. Her early work in traditional media encompassing oils, watercolors, acrylics, collage, and sculpture demonstrate a break from the norm. Her use of the computer since 1968 make evident her struggles and successes in mastering a new technology to give birth to a fascinating body of work that surprisingly disguises the brain power behind it. The art itself lures the viewer rather than the media used to create it.

Studying her early work one wonders how Schwartz would have worked if she hadn’t been left to her own devices, if she had had a more traditional schooling?

Her childhood environment was one of poverty and illness. She was number 12 of thirteen children. By age thirteen she had lost six siblings and a father.
One way she coped with such deprivation was through music. Her Mother loved opera and would take the children to the Cincinnati Zoo in the summer where the Metropolitan Opera Company performed. Her mother paid admission for herself and wheeled the youngest baby into the Zoo for free. Schwartz and the other children climbed over the fence. The family would sit and play outside the tent while listening to the music. Schwartz also learned to play the piano from her sister and the violin in school. Another way was by allowing her mind to wander, to use her imagination to create beauty. But fantasy alone can be destructive. Even in her early years she understood the necessity for intellectual pursuits. And that from these pursuits her fantasy world could be enriched.

In her grammar school years Schwartz was taken to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Her memories of these visits were of large figurative marble statues. She felt the Museum trips were pleasant but that she was outside the work. Schwartz was in her late teens before she became aware of other artists works.
She wasn’t content to simply observe and respond to these works but found she was compelled to try to find the artist’s intent in producing such a work.

In her early 20’s she was introduced to Hiroshige and other Ukioy-e artists in Japan.
In her mid 20’s she was attracted to and bought a calendar with Rembrandt’s sketches. These pen and ink and washes became a strong focus for investigations and then an influence on her own work. Later, she was attracted to the work of Matisse, Van Gogh, and Picasso, and the work and writings of Leonardo. Her current studies are the frescoes of Piero della Francesca.

Schwartz’s method has always been to analyze a work, take it apart in terms of composition, technique, and color. Then she would actually work in the style of a Master until she integrated the work ethic. The final step in her process is to create away from the work to realize her own conceptions.

Schwartz’s modus operandi seems to follow a standard where she is attracted to an artist, reads and studies the person and the work, files this information away until she has extended or invented a new way to work with a medium to express an interpretation of the creative energies bursting from the work of the artist in favor at the moment.

Schwartz is in love with learning. Looking to the past in order to go into the future.
In the 50’s and early 60’s she was open to the action of the art world around her but had her own unique way of expressing what might be called Pop art with her sculpture “What Little Boys Are Made Of”, “Come Alive”, and others exhibited at the Rabin & Krueger Gallery in Newark. Even though she had great public success with these works and a number of kinetic sculptures her curiosity about the computer won her out.

Once she made the leap into the realm of computers she left her artist colleagues behind and with that rupture, interaction, ideological sympathies, debates, arguments.
Her world became isolated but the rewards of forging ahead, developing a new medium that would open ways of working for herself and other artists that were impossible before, became her goal.

A major influence then, on her work, came from the scientists, their jargon, their labs.
From this source can be traced her early films, all with a relation, a counterpart in the science world.
Her images were suggestive of atoms, contour plots, wave motion.

Other influences were the films of the cubists, how they handled painting into motion. The experimental films of Duchamp, Man Ray and others. It was the continuing self education, the fascination with the world of science, that absorbed her through the late 60’s and 70’s.

You paint with a PC; is it art? BY. GREG PHELAN

May 9, 1993

Asbury Park Press

Ever wonder what Leonardo Da Vinci would be doing if he were alive today?  Chances are he wouldn’t be spending his time hobnobbing at chic Manhattan art galleries.  He would be trying to satisfy his insatiable appetite for innovation in the worlds of science and art.  It’s very likely he would be spending a lot of time using a computer.
Lillian Schwartz is doing just that.  An artist inspired by her mentor Leonardo, she had devoted herself to exploring the creative potential of technology.  In 1968, she participated in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art where a fateful encounter with research scientist from AT&T Bell Laboratories led her into the world of the computer.  Immediately, she recognized the tool as a vehicle for self-expression.
With the help of Bell Labs scientist in Murray Hill, Schwartz used the computer to experiment with painting, animation, filmmaking, and sound. This was before Roger Rabbit, Star Wars, computer graphics or MTV.  Even so, her work has not gone unrecognized.  Her journey led her to win an Oscar for her filmmaking, an Emmy for a commercial for the Museum of Modern Art, and much of her work is part of the permanent collections of the great museums of the world.
But how does she do it? How did she take this hunk of metal, plastic and silicon and shape it for her own expression? In her inspiring new book, “The Computer Artist’s Handbook,” she provides the road map to creating computer art. Her advice to the budding computer artist is pointed: Don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes.
Take painting on the computer. There are plenty of software packages that provide the functionality to paint on the screen. With the mouse or other point device, a compute user can use shapes, colors and patterns to create impressive designs. Is it art?  Van Gogh had to mix his own colors to get the precise yellow he needed to paint his sunflowers.  Chances are the menu of prefab shapes or colors on the computer will not meet the needs of the artist.
But, as Schwartz points out, there is nothing stopping a painter from creating his or her own digital palette of colors or paintbrush styles.  Literally millions of colors can be mixed with the computer; dozens of working palettes can be saved in a database to be called up at a whim.  Paintbrushes can be chopped up, trimmed or combined in a flash to create new visual effects. The possibilities are endless.  The problem is not being limited by the computer; just the opposite. It’s being overwhelmed.
Given all these possibilities, an artist needs others to point the way, give advice and provide inspiration, which is what Schwartz does in her book.  Where does a pioneer like Lillian Schwartz get her own inspiration?
Using the computer, Schwartz is able to probe into the long-forgotten techniques of the masters, analyzing Picasso’s sense of composition, Van Gogh’s selection of colors or Leonardo’s use of perspective. Her discoveries fuel her creativity, challenge her to take chances, explore new possibilities. And, as a byproduct of her investigations, she has made important contributions in art history, such as her discovery that the Mona Lisa was based in part on Leonardo’s own self-portrait.
Pablo Picasso said computers were useless because they only give answers. The work of Lillian Schwartz has proved him wrong by showing how computers provide opportunity for creativity. Like any true artist, she explores where her curiosity takes her, unconstrained by technological limitations. And she mixes her own colors.

Comment by Russ Glover, Brian Monahan -German


AT&T MURRAY HILL, N.J. — As a harbinger of the advanced computer technology to come, an American artist became the first person to draw an electronic painting in the United States that appeared instantaneously in Germany. In addition, eight New Jersey and New York school children were the first to collaborate with young German artists on paintings created with interactive input from both continents.
Using experimental graphics technology from AT&T Bell Laboratories, artist Lillian Schwartz and children from schools in New Jersey and New York, created works of art which were transmitted between the AT&T Bell Labs research facility here and the German Postal Museum in Frankfurt, West Germany.
Two Bell Labs developments, a pressure-sensitive electronic pen and an electrostatic writing and design tablet linked to AT&T computers, allowed the artists to exchange drawings across the Atlantic. Every artistic stroke, highlight and shade was transmitted as a digital data signal via the AT&T Worldwide Intelligent Network.The exchange helped celebrate the opening of a new postal museum in Frankfurt that marks the 500th anniversary of the German postal system, Deutsche Bundespost.
The New Jersey students are Kevin McGinn, 15, of Chatham High School; Vic Chu, 17, of Morris Knolls High School; Steve Eiter, 16, of Madison High School; and Luke Brooks-Shesler, 13, of Madison Middle School. The New York students are Leonardo Urbano, 8, and Claudia Maroney, 9, of P.S. 88 in Ridgewood, N.Y.; and Julie Kim, 16, and Alex Chesler, 16, of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

“This is the first time that real-time color graphic images have been created and transmitted internationally,” said Bob Boie, the Bell Labs researcher who designed the tablet and pen. “The prototype system is a harbinger of the portable, high-performance, low-cost ‘notebook’ style computers to come, where handwriting-sensitive displays, not keyboards, will be the primary means for communication.”

To inaugurate this international demonstration, Schwartz, a Bell Labs consultant in computer graphics, today created the first original work of art on the pen-and-tablet apparatus that instantaneously appeared stroke by stroke on an identical tablet in Frankfurt. To commemorate the event, the art work was printed on a color laser printer and given to Dr. Schwarz Schilling, government minister for the Deutsche Bundespost.

Schwartz’s pioneering role in establishing computers as a valid artistic medium had its beginnings in 1968 at Bell Labs, when she created a group portrait of several colleagues on a computer screen. At the time, the effort represented the first full-scale example of digital picture processing in both the telecommunications industry and the art world.

“Computers have come a long way since I began to use them as a medium for the creation of art,” said Schwartz. “This new pen and tablet constitute an important forward step in that continuing process of improvement. For the first time, I now have a way of sketching as if I were using pen and ink, charcoal, a graphite pencil or color pastels. The pen and touch screen act as a natural extension of my hand, allowing me to draw continuous lines of varying thicknesses by changing the pressure as I guide the pen over the surface.”

The design and performance of this revolutionary transparent pad and pen system relies on several significant Bell Labs advances in technology: a linear response force- sensitive pen, a novel filter that accurately measures pen movement, and the visually transparent tablet.

As the metal pen glides across the 3-by-6-inch screen, its tip crosses a grid of square tiles created by invisible wires embedded in glass. By measuring the capacitance between tiles and the tip of the pen, the system accurately determines the pen’s point on the surface.

The pen’s signal changes as the tip approaches the tablet surface, and the varying levels of force generated by contact cause the signal to increase or decrease. This sensitivity allows users to control the width of strokes appearing on the computer screen. Then, by touching the pen’s tip to a palette of computer-generated colors, users can easily create images or write notes.

“The nice thing about this technology is that you can make the tablets any size you want,” said Boie. “They could be 8-by-11 inches or the size of a chalkboard. And no matter what size the tablet is, the images’ resolution will always be crystal clear.”


1988 Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa, Kean College, NJ
1947 Graduate College of Nursing & Health; Univ. of Cinti. Ohio


1949-50 Chinese Brushwork with Tshiro; Fukuoka, Japan
1950 Oil Painting with Val; St. Louis, MO.
1954-55 Drawing/Design with Ugo Giannini (School of Leger).
1958-59 Oil Painting with Michael Lenson; Montclair Art Museum.
1958 Sculpture with James Kearns.
1959 Graphics/Printmaking Department of Fine Arts; Upsala College
1960 Oil Painting with Adolph Konrad.
1964 Watercolor with Joe Jones.
1968 Computer Math; New School, Manhattan, NY.
1969 Introduction to Computers; John Vollaro, Bell Labs.
1969 Film and Animation; Bell Labs Education Dept.
1969 Techniques to create color filters for Post Production;
Bruce Cornwall.


Self-employed, also:

1968- Consultant Bell Laboratories
(formerly AT&T, now Lucent Technologies)
1987- Graduate Faculty. School of Visual Arts, New York City, NY
1992- Director Save The Leaning Tower of Pisa in collaboration with
Professor Madara Ogot, Rutgers University and PhD candidate
Zheng Zhou. URL:

Last modified: JANUARY 2, 2013