Thursday, September 11, 2008


CS 412 : Generative Systems of Image / Music / Text Production
Fall / 08

Mathew Timmons
e: mtimmons[at]calarts[dot]edu
ph: 661 253 7716
office hours by appointment

"Generative art refers to any art practice where the artist uses a system, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program, a machine, or other procedural invention, which is set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed work of art." – Philip Galanter from What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory

Since the atom was split, the amount of information available for consumption as textual andor visual material has grown exponentially. It has been predicted that by 2012 the amount of textual information available to a human being will double every 11 seconds leading to an ephemeralization of knowledge. At the same time, the systems we use to organize information and make it legible have increased in number and complexity.

This course is designed to introduce students to the ways in which various artistic disciplines have used organizational systems to generate imaginative taxonomies, art, and writing defined by process, as well as musical and dance compositions that deploy chance operations. Generative art can be created with varying degrees of technical skill, and can be seen as part of an ongoing exploration of pattern and randomness in the arts. We will look at some examples of complexly programmed online work, but will also be interested in art that is informed by the way technology has impacted the world, i.e. forms of art that come out of a sense of database aesthetics. We will also look at non-electronic conceptual writing from contemporary and historical sources such as “The Tapeworm Foundry,” by Darren Wershler-Henry, various works by the Oulipo, and/or theories of “uncreative” writing by Kenneth Goldsmith, and the combinatoric and permutational work from the past of Raymond Lull and Athanasius Kircher. We will also explore this type of work from other disciplines, including John Cage's explorations with the "I Ching," the Judson Dance Theater's creations of 'post-modern' dance choreography, programmatic examples from the Fluxus Workbook, the generative music techniques employed by Brain Eno, Lev Manovich's Soft[ware] Cinema, and Harold Cohen's scripted painting machine AARON.

We will look at art being made in a world where the way information is accessed is often more important than the information itself. We will explore conceptual systems and interrogate their intrinsic mathematical constructs and relative levels of complexity. We will attempt to come to terms with new modes of subjectivity being created in/through the work we look at and reflect on how it represents/reacts to contemporary trends beyond the art world.

As this is a workshop/discussion class, attendance is essential and will be accounted for at each class meeting. Each student is allowed three absences. A fourth absence will result in a grade of NX.

Weekly reading/viewing and Artist's Responses handed in and posted to the class blog
One Presentation in class on reading/viewing
One Research and Design Experiment due Oct 23
One Final Project due at the end of class and final presentation

10% Class Participation
25% Artist's Responses
15% Presentation
25% Research Project
25% Final Project

Blog Responses:
Responses to the readings, when assigned, are due by noon on the day of class. Roughly 10 of these will be assigned—you must complete at least 6 to receive any credit. These should be short responses to the work we review each week that focus on a particular aspect of interest to you. Post your response to the class blog ( and print out a copy to hand in during class. You are encouraged to use the list of Exercises handed out in class as writing guides for these assignments. Also, you are welcome to do 'artists' responses—by posting media work to the class blog, or if you are doing something that isn’t easily presentable in blog format, arrange something with me beforehand and we will figure out a way for you to present work during class.

You and a classmate or two will lead the class in discussion of the reading/viewing materials for the week. You may work together as a group on the presentation or prepare separate presentations (if so you should check in with the other presenters and make sure you aren't focusing on the same thing). You are encouraged to use this opportunity to look closely at a particular concept or system and use the time to present a short artistic response to the work andor to bring in a short exercise for the class to participate in.

Research and Design Experiment: Due October 23
Primarily, this is a research project that will consist of a 1250 word essay (roughly 4 double spaced pages). You should pick two or three things we have talked about in class and reference one or two things you have discovered on your own. Think of this as an opportunity to research, design and experiment with systems you are interested in exploring for your final project.

Final Project: Due Last Day of Class, December 11
This project will function somewhat as an outgrowth of the Research and Design experiment, but will be more geared towards creative output. You are welcome to work in whatever medium you are most comfortable with, what is most important is that you produce work that relates to the concepts we have investigated during the course of the class. The Final Project will also include a written component consisting of a 1250 word essay (roughly 4 double spaced pages) that relates your creative output to at least three examples from any medium (at least one from our class work and others from your own research—be sure to cite these clearly and that you use different examples than those from the R&D Experiment). During the last three days of class you will be expected to present your work and some of the concepts you have engaged with in a 15 minute presentation.


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