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ANSI by Nootropic ANSI by Nootropic
This piece was originally conceived as an artistic statement: a plain representation of the four characters that have been arranged in millions of different ways to produce countless examples of ANSI art. When it was released, the only people viewing it would have already been well-versed in the technicalities of the medium, so it appeared as it would in a gallery, without any kind of elaboration. Considering most DA users have no idea what ANSI is all about, I am using the description of this piece to explain what it takes to make this kind of computer art...

ANSI is a very unique medium for creative expression. 16 predetermined foreground colours and half as many background colours form the palette. Shading is accomplished with the four characters depicted in the center of this piece, while shaping is made possible by four more "half blocks," each occupying a vertical strip left and right, or a square-like horizontal space up and down. These blocks are uneven; the long and skinny strips differ in width by a pixel's breadth, as do the top and bottom squares. These perturbations in the overall symmetry of complimentary characters has profound implications for the artist with a keen eye for detail, although such attention to subtlety is often overlooked (I digress).

The canvas is a grid 80 characters in width that varies in length according to however much time and effort the artist feels like investing. Traditionally, screen size has limited the way in which ANSI artwork is appreciated. When viewing a piece in DOS, only 25 lines of a piece were seen at a time. If an ANSI exceeded the dimensions of the screen, one would have to scroll up and down to get the feel of a piece, or flip to "VGA mode" to take it all in. This is akin to peering through a small window in order to examine a piece of art, or stepping back to view a painting through a telescope. Now that most ANSI viewing is done on the web, this facet of the text-mode tradition is almost completely overlooked.

Every block must be set by hand, in most cases. There are a few basic copy and paste functions in most ANSI editors, but they are not particularly useful for much more than basic outlining. Think of the effort required to individually select the colour and character of every block in one of the larger ANSI pieces. In a typical 200-liner there are 16000 blocks! Even if there is a lot of blackspace (our medium's natural equivalent to whitespace), it is a lot of work. Making ANSI is exhausting, time-consuming, and incredibly difficult, not unlike creating a floor mosaic with thousands of tiny ceramic tiles using a mismatched pair of chopsticks. No wonder most of the great works of this obscure medium were made by young artists in their teenage years--who else has the time for this kind of thing?

The ANSI specification has been around since the early dawn of the telecommunications era, but pre-Internet systems (BBSes) often maintained an austere and utilitarian appearance due to bandwidth constraints. Viewing a full-bodied ANSI on 2400 baud is excruciatingly slow, and completely unthinkable on the 300 baud modems typically used throughout the 1980s. As transfer rates increased, and user interface design became a selling point or source of prestige, the systems began to use ANSI art for menu design, loader screens, login matrices, and other such elements. Consequently, demand grew for elaborate full-scale ANSI art, and this spurned the development of the creative underclass.

In the period of 1991 to 1993, pioneering artists organized themselves into groups such as ACiD, iCE, and DARK, publishing regular (often monthly) "packs" collecting their work, which were almost exclusively advertisements for the selfsame Bulletin Board Systems that distributed their creations. Each subsequent year brought rapid innovation in style and content, from the "comic rips" of the early years to the complicated abstract creations that artists like myself pioneered in 1996 and onward. What had begun as an idle past-time and means to participate in the illicit warez trade rapidly became a highly active underground art scene. 1994 and 1995 were big years for ANSI art, although the medium was still restricted to advertisements and generally bereft of genuine originality. 1996 ushered in an explosion of creative experimentation that marks it as the peak year for the ANSI underground. After that, it was all downhill. Think of the history of computing as a continuum. The BBS era was made possible by the increase in transfer rates and proliferation of technology, but damned by the very same forces. It was a window of opportunity seized by tens of thousands of people all across the world, and summarily dismissed as the world moved on.

With the rise of the internet in the late nineties, BBSes began to die out en masse. In the process, the once thriving ANSI scene entered into a rapid period of decline. It was as if the entire movement had lost its purpose when the bubble burst. There had not been enough time for the medium to mature; it was still rooted firmly in the BBS realm. People that once lived and breathed blocky text-mode characters turned their interest towards other pursuits, trading in the frustrating difficulties of the ANSI medium for new practices beyond the borderlands of the underground digital art scene. By 2001, many of the old masters had disappeared entirely, prestigious groups had stopped releasing ANSI or were nowhere to be found, and it seemed as if this blinding phase in the history of digital art had been swept away by the rapid institution of constant change.

Since then, there has been a small revival of the medium by artists new and old. The IRC channels, once flooded with the spastic chatter of unruly teenagers, now ebb and flow with the resigned serenity of adulthood. It has become less serious in a way... no longer an adolescent proving ground for the social challenges of life ahead. There are those that still love the medium, but they are few and far between. Nubile notions of fame and prestige no longer drive the masses to produce. The only reasons left are abstract and obscure fragments of a divine ideal. Passion runs thin in the digital outback. Hobbyists will continue to dabble... some of us old-timers might lay down a block or two every now and then... but you really have to respect the amount of time involved in making these strange and peculiar creations. In the "golden era" such a commitment was never questioned; it was expected. To see that someone far removed from this entire history might make the effort is truly impressive...

And so, while the past history of ANSI is mainly inscrutable to all but the veterans, the future is sure to slowly bring out styles in an archaic medium which had never been imagined, back in the day. ANSI is a happy accident... the joys of which can only be understood after undergoing the grueling labour necessary to create a great work within its limiting confines. So, with that in mind, I greatly encourage the hobbyists of DA to give it a whirl :)
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:iconspectralscream:
spectralscream Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
Ah, the good old days, back when downloading a .gif took forever on a 2400bps modem. :)
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:iconsquidge2:
squidge2 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Nicely put... You were always a legend mr nootropic.
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:iconradman1:
radman1 Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Amen.
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:iconcatbones:
catbones Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Bravo, man.
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:iconcyonx:
Cyonx Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
/slowclap

I couldn't have said it better myself (and I tried!)
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:iconbase-sg:
Base-SG Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2006
not irrelevant, just interesting for a few geeks that like to fool around with antiquated protocols :P
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:icondefunkster:
Defunkster Featured By Owner May 17, 2006
This type of art has been going on well before computers came along. There was no ansi.sys or extended character set from IBM to work with. No, the bold mighty artist took the magnificent typewriter and went hard to work. Most of the work done on the typewriter mirros what we see today in the modern ascii art form. There are still artists today who perform this art on a typewritter, the work is not to be scoffed at, many magnificent pieces can be produced from this. As stated above, text art will continue on well into the future since language is communicated through symbols. The day we no longer read is the day this art will probably die. Can you read my mind?
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:iconansi86:
ansi86 Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'd love to see some of that, if you know of any sites hosting it. Typewriter art could be REALLLY cool.
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:iconfransoun:
Fransoun Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2005
Thanks for the explanation.
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:icondeepdesign:
deepdesign Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2005
Cool!!! :)
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:iconlunaticsoup:
LunaticSoup Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2004
I love your tribute to IBM's greyscale blocks. Hey, I can still remember the codes in the character set. :)

I have one factual comment and one that's mostly emotional.

The factual: ANSI, aka ANSI X.3.64 is a standardised language for controlling terminals. The PC's various BBS modem software were terminal emulators (and they only understood a small subset of the full ANSI set of commands). By the time ANSI standardised this terminal language, it was already very popular among terminal manufacturers. The first 'glass terminals' (i.e. ones with screens and electronic/electric keyboards, not teletypewriters) had codes very close to ANSI. Terminals like Digital's VT52, the absolute classic VT100, VT102 and VT220 made this language a de facto standard in the mid-Seventies. Contrast this with the IBM PC coming out in 1981.

So ANSI was around well before 1991-92. Long before the first PC rolled through the production line in 1981. In fact, ASCII and ANSI art were both around for a long time too (but very few terminals had colour screens).

Which brings me neatly to my emotional comment: ANSI was here before the PC, DOS, and BBSing. BBSing never died (it just mutated, I think -- DeviantArt is as good a BBS as any in my book). And ANSI will be here after people have forgotten about classical BBSing and working almost entirely in text mode. To wit: all modern terminal emulators support some subset of the ANSI X.3.64 standard. Windows has one; MacOS X has one; every UNIX machine has several.

In fact, were you to publish the 'source file' to this lovely image, I could actually interpret it right here on one of several modern terminals. :)

Anyway, sorry about the long (understatement) comment!
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:iconglue:
glue Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2004
That's inspiring. I love the fact that you're giving it some dedication. :+fav:
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:iconkil1k:
kil1k Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2004  Hobbyist Photographer
thanks for the story !
this kind of art is living by itself... i tried to do that some time before, when i worked for a small company that gave me a old winnt4, i discovered ascii art, with all the funny characters
now the ansi is something pure and simple
and even if i dont share completly the :devdreamdreamer: idea about the "iron wall of developement", i'm agree that ansi, ascii, will stay

oh and nice work again, for the deviation :) :)
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:iconsteamdreamer:
steamdreamer Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2004
i don't entirely agree with you on your final point. yes, in a superficial sense, ansi has become obsolete. in these days of constant graphical innovation, the concept seems almost laughable. a point that was recently brought up to me, however, was that in 20 years most of our current technology and software will be useless. applying the gutenberg project plain vanilla text principle to art indicates that even if photoshop (etc.) formats become obsolete, ansi will still stand as something that will be readable by any and all machines. from a comand line unix system to an advanced pocket-pc, everything can interpret ansi or ascii art. at this moment everything old is new again and people find novelty in the trends of the past, but i think technology can't run away with us forever. a number of tech guys i've spoken with seem to have the prediction that we are going to run into an iron wall within a decade with our current developmental trend. we'll have to see what consumer-side technology becomes, but i contend that text based art will maintain a place on the computer for years to come. simply put, the images from my digital camera may become obsolete but we'll still be running text through computers forever more.
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:iconshadukha:
shadukha Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2004  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'd never heard of ANSI until I read this... thanx for the history :)

I think your gallery is amazing, I'm gonna :+devwatch: you ;)
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:iconpraecox:
Praecox Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2004
wow. thanks for explaining that. I was wondering about it. :D
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:iconbym:
bym Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2004  Professional
love those blocks =) good explanation of the medium.
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:iconlady-vampiresa:
lady-vampiresa Featured By Owner May 19, 2004  Hobbyist Photographer
how cute
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