MAS.110 Fundamentals of Computational Media Design

Fall Term 2016

TR4, E15-341 (the scheduled Friday 10 meeting is only for students in the MAS Freshman Program)

Instructor: V. Michael Bove, Jr., E15-448, x3-0334, (I'm not scheduling formal office hours but am available before class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and various times most other days by appointment)

Writing advisor: Nora Jackson, E39-382,

Scratch coaches: Sarah Otts,; Christan Balch,; Eric Schilling,


Books (available at The Coop, and on reserve at Rotch Library):

The Victorian Internet, (any edition you can find is okay), Tom Standage

Typographic Design: Form and Communication, 6th or 5th ed., Carter, Day, and Meggs (see reading assignments below for differences)

History of Modern Art, 7th or 6th ed., Arnason and Mansfield (if you get the 7th edition, note that it is available both as a single volume and as two separate ones)

Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing, 2nd ed., Margaret Livingstone


Subject Goals:

The goals of this class include

* To use a broad range of examples from visual expression 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


Enrollment policy when subject is oversubscribed:

Enrollment priority is enforced by the CI-H registration system; first priority is given to students in the MAS Freshman Program (since this is a required subject for them), then to students in the order assigned by the on-line system.


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 8 Introduction to the semester. A brief discussion on the importance of noticing, as well as what comes after Z in the alphabet. Discussion of writing assignments with Nora Jackson. Handouts from Nora: Intro to the Writing Conference, Citing Sources.

Today's music video: "The Grey Video", Ramon&Pedro/DJ Danger Mouse.

Sept 13 Typography, technology, and perception. Looking at type, on hard- and softcopy. Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapters 1, 7, 8 (in either edition). Please bring Carter to class this class and next.

US highway sign font changes, then changes back, what's happening?

Top Gear car review includes the designer of UK motorway signs (start 3:30 in).

Part 2 of the above.

Sept 15 Continued discussion of type. In-class exercise, "making letters." Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapters 2-4 (5th edition) or 2, 3, 5, 9 (6th). Please feel free to read further!

Dynamic typography examples: Title sequences from Psycho, Saul Bass; North by Northwest, Saul Bass; Panic Room, Picture Mill. Music video for Jonathan Coulton's "Shop Vac" by Jarrett Heather.

GoudyHundred, a PostScript font in human-readable form. (save it and look at it as if it were a text file)

Sept 20 Video screening: Helvetica by Gary Hustwit (video runs until 5:45, please stay if possible). Erik Spiekermann's blog post "Helvetica Sucks."

Sept 22 VISUAL 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 9 [5th edition] or 6 and 10 [in the 6th] for inspiration). Reading assignment due today: Standage, Chapters 1-5.

Sept 27 Discussion of The Victorian Internet. Discussion of "scary technologies." Reading assignment due today: Standage, Chapter 6 through Epilogue.

Sept 29 Electronic displays, color, perception. Reading assignment due today: Livingstone, Chapters 1-8, 16 (if you have the first edition -- which is the one that doesn't say "Revised and Expanded" on the cover -- read 1-6, 11, and 12).

Today's images: early 1900's color photos by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (archived version that works when the Library of Congress web site is down!), Autochrome images by Louis Lumière, Autochrome Images on Flickr, Autochrome Images on Instagram

Oct 4 Introduction to Scratch. Please bring your laptop to class today. FIRST SCRATCH EXERCISE DUE OCT. 18, SECOND DUE NOV. 1 (SEE BELOW)

Oct 6 ESSAY 1 DUE (and discussed in class): at least 1500 words (approx. 6 double-spaced pages) describing your relationship with some technological artifact, and how it enhances or inhibits your relationships with other people.

Oct 11 NO CLASS (Columbus Day holiday).

Oct 13 Continued discussion of essay 1.

Oct 18 SCRATCH EXERCISE 1 DUE: Scratch has a "2 1/2 D" graphical space made up of stacked 2D layers. Explore how you might create a rich visual sense of 3D space using this seemingly-limiting set of tools, and build a dynamic scene of your choice that demonstrates what you figured out. You may do this project individually or in groups of two. For inspiration, please watch Walt Disney Explaining the Multiplane Camera. But don't restrict yourself to the technique there, if you can come up with something else that works. Reading assignment due today: Livingstone, chapters 12-13 (or in the first edition, 7-9).

Please share your Scratch projects at the MAS.110 Fall 2016 Scratch Page

(For inspiration, here's the MAS.110 Fall 2015 Scratch Page)

Oct 20 SHORT WRITING EXERCISE DUE (and discussed in class): 250-500 words describing something you have seen that wasn't actually there (can be an accidental illusion, or a planned illusion such as a magician's act, a theme park installation, or a cinematic or theatrical special effect). Describe what you saw, how you think the illusion happened, and the connection with the themes from the Livingstone book. All students will briefly present their exercises in class today. You don't need to make an appointment to discuss this assignment with the writing advisor.

Oct 25 NO CLASS (Media Lab event) OPTIONAL WRITING WORKSHOP WITH NORA JACKSON, 4-5:30. Location to be announced. Please sign up in advance with Nora.

Oct 27 Modern art, perception, and technology, and how they influenced one another. Reading assignment due today: Arnason, "New Ways of Seeing" pp. 17-22 (6th) or 14-19 (7th), "Seizing the Moment" pp. 28-41 (6th) or 24-27 (7th), Chapter 3 (entire, except you may skip "An Art Reborn") (both editions).

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), Olympia, (1863); Edgar Degas, Race Horses at Longchamp (1871); Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Moulin de la Galette (1876), Dance at Bougival (1883); Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise (1872), The Bridge at Argenteuil (1874), 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); Henri Matisse, Portrait of Madame Matisse (1905); Matthew Smith, Nude, Fitzroy Street, No. 1 (1916)

Nov 1 SCRATCH EXERCISE 2 DUE: individually or in groups, create a Scratch project that demonstrates one of the visual phenomena discussed in Livingstone, potentially in combination with some modern-art imagery of the sort we're discussing. (If you want to experiment with red-cyan 3D anaglyphs, see Anaglyph Sprites and Anaglyph Tractor -- there are other examples of varying quality on the Scratch site, too).

Nov 3 More modern art. Reading assignment due today: Arnason, 6th: Chapter 5 (entire), Chapter 6 (entire), Chapter 7 (entire), Chapter 8 "Two Mountain Climbers" and "Other Agendas"; or 7th: Chapter 4 (entire), Chapter 5 (entire), Chapter 6 (entire), Chapter 7 "Two Mountain Climbers" and "Other Agendas"

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); Coles Phillips, various "fadeaway girls" including Life Magazine Cover "In a Position to Know", (1921); "Kanisza Triangle" illusion by Gaetano Kanisza; advertisement for Sun Motor Car Company (1916); Charles Rennie Mackintosh, windows in Willow Tea Room, Glasgow (1903), House for an Art Lover (designed 1901, but not built until 1996); various Paris Metro entrances, (circa 1900); ceramic tiles, Carl Sigmund Luber (circa 1900); Storefront at 1804 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge (circa 1900); 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)

Today's Music: Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, "Pablo Picasso"; YouTube video based on David Bowie's version (try this link if that one's blocked)

Nov 8 Still more modern art! Reading assignment due today: Arnason, 6th: Chapter 10 pp. 206-218, Chapter 11 pp. 235-254, Chapter 13 pp. 285-292, Chapter 14 Introduction and "Die Werkmeistern", 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; or 7th: Chapter 9 pp. 186-196, Chapter 10 pp. 213-232, Chapter 12 pp. 262-269, Chapter 13 Introduction and "Die Werkmeistern", Chapter 14 pp. 297-325, Chapter 16 "Entering a New Arena", Chapter 19 "This is Tomorrow" and "Signs of the Times" and "Liechtenstein" and "Warhol", Chapter 23 "Body of Evidence"

VISUAL EXERCISE 2 DUE: Find a recently-made example of an image or object in one of the modern art styles we've discussed in class, and share it with the class. E-mail the instructor a photo or link and explain what style/artist you think the creator has appropriated.

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); various examples of "Dazzle Camouflage" (originated by artist Norman Wilkinson) including fashions worn at the 1919 Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball; Herbert Bayer, German banknotes (1923); Marcel Duchamp, The Fountain (1917); 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), The Blank Signature (1965); 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)

Short films for today: Hans Richter, Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928, dada); Man Ray, Emak-Bakia (1926, surrealist), Fernand Léger and George Antheil, Ballet Mécanique (1924, surrealist, or maybe dada...) 2006 robotic performance at the National Gallery of Art

Nov 10 ESSAY 2 DUE (and discussed in class): at least 1500 words 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 15 Continued discussion of essay 2.

Nov 17 NO CLASS (Instructor traveling -- sorry!)

Nov 22 VISUAL 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 1500-word essay on what you were trying to do and on the process by which you did it (and how you discovered/developed the process). Is there a relationship between the technology and the message? Explain why you used the particular style you chose.

Nov 24 NO CLASS (Thanksgiving break)

Nov 29 FINAL PROJECT PROPOSAL DUE (250-500 words, 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."Final project clinic." In-class discussion of selected final project proposals, also your opportunity to ask the group for advice on your project.

Dec 1 Final project clinic continued

Dec 6 Continued discussion of essay 3.

Dec 8 Continued discussion of essay 3.

Dec 13 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: 250-500 words 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.


VMB's "Cow Guide to Modern Art Styles", in the spirit of the "Two Cows" descriptions of economic systems


Some More On-Line Resources:


Learning material at


Scratch 2.0:

Scratch site

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 class meeting that they're late, up to two letter grades. 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 errors; if you are in need of guidance in matters of grammar or style please meet with the writing advisor, or contact the Writing and Communication Center.

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 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: