MAS.110 Fundamentals of Computational Media Design

Fall Term 2010

TR4, E14-525

V. Michael Bove, Jr., E15-448, x3-0334,

Henry Holtzman, E14-348A, x3-0319,

Writing advisor: Nora Jackson, 14N-432,


Class Wiki:


Books (available at The Coop):

The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage

Typographic Design: Form and Communication, 4th ed., Carter, Day, and Meggs

History of Modern Art, 6th ed., Arnason and Mansfield


Subject Goals:

The goals of this class include

* To use a broad range of examples from art and technology to understand how they interrelate;

* To develop a "way of seeing" such that when looking at things traditionally categorized either as "art" or as "technology" one can perceive the influence of the other; and

* To gain experience and self-confidence giving and receiving peer-group critique regarding how one expresses and instantiates one's ideas


More information on resources, class policies, etc. appears below the schedule


Note that this syllabus is a "work-in-progress." Please check back often for changes.


Sept 9 Introduction. Are there any good pop songs about Twitter? Why do we care about telegraphs nowadays?

Sept 14 NO CLASS (instructor traveling, sorry!) Please visit the "Types We Can Make: A Selection of Contemporary Swiss Type Design" exhibition in the Compton Gallery, 10-150.

Sept 16 Discussion of writing assignments with Nora Jackson. Paper and making marks on it. Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapter 7. Handouts from Nora Jackson: Intro to Writing Advisors, Citing Sources

Sept 21 Video screening: Helvetica by Gary Hustwit. Video will run until 5:45; please stay late if you can.

Sept 23 Typography, technology, and perception. Looking at type, on hard- and softcopy. In-class exercise, "making letters." Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapter 1. Please bring Carter to class this class and next.

Sept 28 Continued discussion of type. Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapters 2-4 (please feel free to read further).

Sept 30 Discussion of The Victorian Internet. Discussion of "scary technologies." Reading assignment due today: Standage, Chapters 1-5.

Oct 5 ESSAY 1 DUE (and discussed in class): 6-8 double-spaced pages describing your relationship with some technological artifact, and how it enhances or inhibits your relationships with other people. Reading assignment due today: Standage, Chapter 6 through Epilogue.

Oct 7 Continued discussion of essay 1.

Oct 12 Continued discussion of essay 1.

Oct 14 NO CLASS (Media Lab sponsor meetings today)

Oct 19 EXERCISE 1 DUE (and discussed in class): Use type/letters to convey some concept or message such that the arrangement of the letterforms visually represents/interprets/reinforces/the message (as an example, see Carter Chapters 6 and 8 for inspiration).

Oct 21 How electronic displays work and why we care. A little about human color perception. Intro to the OLPC XO machine.

Oct 26 Continued discussion of the OLPC XO hardware and the Sugar environment. Hand out XOs. Discussion of first Python/Pygame example programs.

Oct 28 Modern art. Reading assignment due today: Arnason, "New Ways of Seeing" pp. 17-22, "Seizing the Moment" pp. 28-41, Chapter 3 pp. 51-81 (skip "An Art Reborn" pp. 64-69).

Today's images: Oscar G. Rejlander, The Two Ways of Life (1857); Henry Peach Robinson, Carolling (1887); Eadweard Muybridge, Galloping Horse (1878); Edouard Manet, Street Singer (about 1862); Edgar Degas, Race Horses at Longchamp (1871); Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougival (1883); Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, Façade (1894), Rouen Cathedral, Façade and Tour D'Albane (Morning Effect) (1894), Water Lilies (1905); Georges Seurat, Port-en-Bessin, Entrance to the Outer Harbor (1888), Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte (1885); Camille Pissarro, Spring Pasture (1889); Paul Cézanne, Turn in the Road (about 1881), Fruit and a Jug on a Table (about 1890-94); Vincent van Gogh, Postman Joseph Roulin (1888); Paul Gauguin, Entrance to the Village of Osny (1882-83), Flowers and a Bowl of Fruit on a Table (1894), Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where are We Going? (1897-98)

Nov 2 More modern art. Reading assignment due today: Arnason, Chapter 5 (entire) pp. 94-109, Chapter 6 pp. 110-124, Chapter 7 pp. 133-143, Chapter 8 "Two Mountain Climbers" pp. 169-178 and "Other Agendas" pp. 186-192.

Today's images: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, In Bed: The Kiss (1892), Troupe de Mlle. Eglantine (poster) (1895-96); Alphonse Mucha, advertisement for Job cigarette papers (1897); Beggarstaff Brothers (William Nicholson and James Pryde), Girl on a Sofa (1895); Charles Rennie Mackintosh, windows in Willow Tea Room, Glasgow (1903); Jessie M. King, page from The Studio magazine, Jan. 1899; Aubrey Beardsley, Lysistrata (1896); Edvard Munch, Madonna (1895-1902); Ernst Kirchner, Artillerymen (1915); Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary (1906); Georges Braque, Houses at L'Estaque (1908), The Portuguese (1911); Pablo Picasso, The Guitar Player (1910), Compotier avec Fruits, Violon, et Verre (1912); Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (no. 2) (1912); Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity (1912), Fortunato Depero, Depero Futurista (book) (1927)

Nov 4 EXERCISE 2 DUE: Playing with Python/Pygame on the XO. Take one of the example programs provided and modify it to be more visually "interesting".

Nov 9 Still more modern art! Reading assignment due today: Arnason, Chapter 10 pp. 206-218, Chapter 11 pp. 235-254, Chapter 13 pp. 285-292, Chapter 15 pp. 318-348, Chapter 17 "Entering a New Arena" pp 405-418, Chapter 19 "This is Tomorrow" and "Signs of the Times" pp. 482-491 and "Liechtenstein" and "Warhol" pp. 501-512, Chapter 23 "Body of Evidence" pp. 637-646.

Today's images: Piet Mondrian, Oval Composition (Trees) (1913), Oval Composition (1913-14), Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow, and Gray (1921), Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43); Kazimir Malevich, The Knife-Grinder (1912), An Englishman In Moscow (1914), Suprematism (1916); El Lissitzky, pages from Mayakovsky book of poems For Reading out Loud (1923), pages from Two Squares (1920); Marcel Breuer, armchair (1927-28); Herbert Bayer, German banknotes (1923); Francis Picabia, De Zayas! De Zayas! (1915); Man Ray, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows (1916), The Gift (1921); Club Dada prospectus (1918); Tristan Tzara, "Chanson Dada" (1921); Georgio de Chirico, Disquieting Muses (1917); Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931), Burning Giraffe (1935); Meret Oppenheim, Fur Breakfast (1936); René Magritte, The Treachery (or Perfidy) of Images (1928-29), Golconde (1953); Mark Rothko, White over Red (1957); Jackson Pollock, Convergence (1952); Edward Ruscha, Standard Station (1966); Roy Lichtenstein, Blam (1962); Andy Warhol, Marilyn (1967); Victor Vasarely, Vega Per (1969); Victor Moscoso, poster for Blue Cheer concert (1967); Richard Estes, Grant's (1972)

Nov 11 NO CLASS (Veteran's Day)

Nov 16 ESSAY 2 DUE (and discussed in class): 6-8 double-spaced pages describing a painting at the Boston MFA in one of the styles discussed in Arnason. Look up an image of the painting on the MFA Web site and discuss the difference in its appearance from that of the actual painting. Discuss also the difference in your personal experience of viewing the painting at the MFA with that of looking at a picture on the computer screen.

Nov 18 Continued discussion of essay 2.

Nov 23 TBA

Nov 25 NO CLASS (Thanksgiving break)

Nov 30 EXERCISE 3/ESSAY 3 DUE: Use any technological method/apparatus to create a visual image in the style of one of the art movements discussed in Arnason. Write a 6-8 page essay on what you were trying to do and on the process by which you did it (and how you discovered/developed the process).

Dec 2 Continued discussion of essay 3. FINAL PROJECT PROPOSAL DUE (1-2 pages, can include diagrams/illustrations). Final project assignment: Individually or as a team, use a medium/technology of your choice to create something relating to the theme of the intersection of technology and expression.

Dec 7 "Final project clinic"

Dec 9 Exhibition of student work, E14 3rd floor atrium (invite your friends!) Please come early if possible (before 3:45) to set up your exhibit. DUE TODAY: 1-2 pages explaining what your final project is, and if it's a group project describing what parts of it were done by each member of the group.


Some More On-Line Resources:


International Typeface Corporation




Pygame on the OLPC XO (documentation, tutorials, etc.)

Python tutorial

Don't have Photoshop and want to mess around with images? Consider GIMP (which runs on Athena machines and also can be downloaded to yours...)

GIMP Manual

GIMP Downloads


Grading: Class participation will count for 20% of the grade. The papers will collectively count for 30%, the exercises collectively for 30%, and the final project will count for 20%. Papers that are late and unexcused in advance will be penalized by one-half of a letter grade for each day late. If you need an extension, please tell the instructor at least one week ahead of time. You will select one paper for revision and resubmission, and the grade for the resubmitted paper will replace the grade for the original (any late penalty from the original paper will still apply, though).

A Note on Writing Assignments: Essays are submitted as exercises in development and expression of your thoughts. It's not a good use of the instructor's time to have to mark up simple grammar and spelling errors; if you are in need of guidance in matters of grammar or style please meet with the writing advisor or visit the Writing Center in 12-132.

Class Participation: You are expected to participate in class discussion throughout the semester. Participation includes informal class discussion of the readings, and in-class presentations/critiques of your work. Attendance is obviously a prerequisite for class participation. If you must miss a class, you should notify the instructor in advance. More than two unexcused absences will seriously jeopardize your class participation grade. Your own work will be regularly critiqued by your peers without emphasis on issues of formal qualities, but rather on issues of how well you have explored the areas of thought you might select. Thus your ability to express yourself visually (i.e. being a good illustrator and so forth) will not be as important as compared to how well you demonstrate the ability to clearly identify and define a particular idea. Developing your ability to orally defend yourself in the context of a critique will be the primary intent of these regular in-class exercises that occur in tandem with your writing assignments; the assessment of your oral communication component will depend upon your ability to navigate the defense of your own ideas.

Plagiarism Policy: When writing a paper or creating any expressive work, you must identify the nature and extent of your intellectual indebtedness to the authors, artists, and designers whom you have read or to anyone else from whom you have gotten ideas (e.g., classmates, invited lecturers, etc.). You can do so through footnotes, a bibliography, or some other kind of scholarly device. Failure to disclose your reliance on the research or thinking of others is PLAGIARISM, which is considered to be the most serious academic offense and will be treated as such. If you have any questions about how you should document the sources of your ideas, please ask your instructors before you submit your written work. MIT's academic policy can be found at the following link: