I've been combing through the posts and dictionaries, but haven't found the answer yet. The question is not about different spellings as have been asked previously, but on the semantic meaning of the word used in the errors occurring in the context of image processing, visualisation, produced by graphics cards.

Artifacts (also artefacts) are usually depicted to be man-made objects having some form of art associated with them. They seem to be created intentionally, with a purpose by some author(s).

The question that bothers me is why in video, graphics-card, and image-processing industry errors, side-effects, distortions (noise, screen tearing, etc.) are also called (visual) artifacts.

The jargon "visual artifacts" don't seem to fit under the definition, because they almost refer to the opposite of what an artifact should be.

Does anyone know how, why and when people started referring to unintended, unintentional errors and distortions as artifacts?


1 Answer 1


The word 'artifact' is derived from the Latin ars (ablative for art; skillful creation) + factum (past participle for to make), giving it the definition of an object skillfully created by man, or, more simply, a man-made object.

In the research sciences, results caused by the method of investigation, rather than the nature of what is being investigated, are referred to as artifacts because they are due to human agency rather than natural forces; i.e. they are man-made phenomena, introduced by the conductors of the experiment. In this case, the word artifact implies that something is (1) man-made, and (2) out of the ordinary (i.e. not natural).

Over time, the term spread to other fields, such as image processing, where it is used to describe observations within a system that are outside that system's normal behavior. Therefore, the term 'artifact' applies, in non-research fields, due to implication (2) rather than (1). The etymology of the word, however, is contingent upon (1), which is why it seems unrelated when used in fields like graphics.

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