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Information and Syllabus

Generative Art

Days: T R
Time: 11:00am - 12:50pm
Building: MCMA
Classroom: Communications 1116

Instructor: Robert Spahr
Contact: rspahr@siu.edu AIM: rospahr
Office: MCMA 1121E
Office Hours: M T R 1:00-3:00 PM & by appointment

Course Syllabus Location: http://www.robertspahr.com/gen/

Course Listings:
Adv Tpcs Interdisciplinary Std - Generative Art - CP 470D 001   CRN: 22213
Media Arts Studio Seminar: Live/Generative Art - MCMA 543 005   CRN: 21697

Required Text:

* All readings will be distributed in class or available online. *


Generative Art can be defined as any analog or digital art practice, that incorporates instruction-based, mechanical, organic, computer-controlled, and/or other external, random, or semi-random processes and/or apparatuses directly into the creative process, which is then set to motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a work of art.

This course is designed to explore the history and current practice of generative art, and to consider the use of chance and automation, which bring into question our assumptions about originality, creativity and craft, as well as the role of the artist within the creative process. Taught as a production course combined with critical readings and discussion, students will be expected to create a number of projects throughout the semester. The student's level of comprehension of this material will be assessed through their contributions to class discussions and critiques, journal entries and project assignments.


Be sure to check back often for any updated information.

Jan 18
What is Generative Art?
Lecture Notes

Jan 20
Exercise 1

Jan 25
Chance / Randomness / Systems
Jack Burnham: Systems Esthetics
Steve Reich: Music as a Gradual Process
Tzara: How to Make a Dadaist Poem
George Brecht: Chance-Imagery

To be viewed in class:
John Cage about silence
John Cage: "Indeterminacy" (1959), Part One
John Cage: "Indeterminacy" (1959), Part Two
John Cage: "Indeterminacy" (1959), Part Three
John Cage: "Indeterminacy" (1959), Part Four

Jan 27
Exercise 2

Feb 01
Computational Art

Processing Resources:
Getting Started Processing Tutorial
More Processing Tutorials
Random Number Visualization Tutorial

Suggested Processing Book:
Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists
Sample Chapters with Contents and Index (PDF, 7.6 MB)
All code examples in the book (ZIP, 15 MB)
Errata (Updated 22 April 2010)

Arduino Resources:
Code Examples for the Arduino Starter Kit

Feb 03
Exercise 2 is due.

Feb 08

Feb 10
Exercise 3
Proposal for Project #1 is due. (email me the proposal)

Feb 12
Optional Coding Session
04:00 - 06:00pm Room 1021

Feb 15
Conceptual, Minimalist, & Fluxus Art
Lecture Notes
Lewitt: Sentences on Conceptual Art
Wikipedia: Cut-up technique
Burroughs: The Cut Up Method
Exercise 3 is due.

Feb 17
Exercise 4

Feb 22
Art practices & resistance to war/terror/militarization
Soundstage 1116 - Peace Studies

Feb 24
Critique of Exercise 3 continued

Mar 01
Critique Exercise 4
Exercise 4 is due.

Mar 03
Critique Exercise 4 continued
Journals are due.

Mar 08

Mar 10
Will return Journals.

Mar 15
Spring Break - No Class

Mar 17
Spring Break - No Class

Mar 20
Optional Coding Session
03:00 - 06:00pm Room 1116

Mar 22
Project #1 Critique

Mar 24
Project #1 Critique
Proposal for Project #2 is due.
Journal entry due: Research at least 3 artists manifestos. In your journal write your own manifesto. Be prepared to share this in class.

Mar 29
Cellular Automata / Conway's Life
Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science, Chapter 2 The Crucial Experiment

To be viewed in class:
John Conway's Game of Life
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Exercise 5

Mar 31

Apr 05
Genetic Algorithms
Shanken: Cybernetics and Art: Cultural Convergence in the 1960s
Manovich: Avant-garde as Software

To be viewed in class:
Lecture Notes (cellular automata & genetic algorithms)
Richard Dawkins: Weasel Program
HTML/Javascript version of Weasel
Biomorphs Applet

Visiting Artist:
Colleen Ludwig (http://www.colleenludwig.com)
Artist and educator Colleen Ludwig will be giving a presentation on her work on April 5th in The Dean's Conference Room, MCMA 1032 at 7:30 pm. Colleen creates unique interactive art and is a wonderful presenter.

Apr 07
Guest Lecture: James Suruda

Apr 12
Exercise 5 is due.
Critique Exercise 5

Apr 14

Apr 19

Apr 21

Apr 26

Apr 28

Apr 30
Generative Art Event
6-9pm in the Cinema Soundstage (rm 1116), and C+P Gallery
Peformance begins at 7:30pm (rm 1116)

May 03
Project #2 Critique
Journals are due.

May 05
Project #2 Critique continued

May 09 - 12:50-2:50PM
Project #2 Critique, continued

Two Individual Projects & One Group Exhibit

Two Individual Projects
Each student will develop and present two original generative art projects. These projects will be developed from ideas explored in regular weekly studio exercises. Details regarding these projects will be discussed in class..

One Group Exhibit
A group collaborative exhibit will be developed in class. This presentation of generative art will be created and structured by the group and presented to the general public. Date and location TBA.

Projects can be documented on any suitable medium.


The work in this course requires motivation, exploration, risk-taking, and most importantly, an openness to new ideas. Attendance and promptness are mandatory. The grading policy of this class is meant to encourage you to explore new ideas and take chances. Do not think in terms of "What must I do to receive an A grade", but think in terms of what you would like to learn. All assignments and projects are due at the beginning of class.

Journal: Each student will respond to the class readings, weekly studio exercises, and their own generative art projects, as well as lectures/discussions in class. Students should also document their creative process, and artistic development within the journal. Think of the journal as a resource, to contain your present ideas and hints of future directions to explore.

Each project will be graded on artistic, creative and intellectual merit.

Grades will be based on the following:

  • Originality of concept
  • Delivery (execution of the concept)
  • Documentation
  • Process
  • Craft
  • Critique participation

Your final grade will be determined by the following:

  • 30% Participation/Exercises
  • 10% Journal
  • 25% Project #1
  • 25% Project #2
  • 10% Group Exhibit

Web Resources:

Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons Filmmaking - A Swarm Of Angels remixes modern cinema

Paul Graham: Taste For Makers

Aspen: The Multimedia Magazine in a Box

Dadaism by Tristan Tzara


The Fluxus Home Page

Paul Graham: Taste for Makers

Electronic Arts Intermix

Building Emergency Response Protocols

University's Emergency Procedure Clause: Southern Illinois University Carbondale is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for study and work. Because some health and safety circumstances are beyond our control, we ask that you become familiar with the SIUC Emergency Response Plan and Building Emergency Response Team (BERT) program. Emergency response information is available on posters in buildings on campus, available on BERT's website at www.bert.siu.edu, Department of Public Safety's website www.dps.siu.edu (disaster drop down) and in the Emergency Response Guideline pamphlet. Know how to respond to each type of emergency.

Instructors will provide guidance and direction to students in the classroom in the event of an emergency affecting your location. It is important that you follow these instructions and stay with your instructor during an evacuation or sheltering emergency. The Building Emergency Response Team will provide assistance to your instructor in evacuating the building or sheltering within the facility.

Disabled Students: Instructors and students in the class will work together as a team to assist disabled students out of the building safely. Disabled students will stay with the instructor and communicate with the instructor what is the safest way to assist them.

Tornado: During the spring semester we have a Storm Drill. Pick up your belongings and your instructor will lead you to a safe area of the basement. No one will be allowed to stay upstairs. Stay away from windows. The drill should not last more than 10 minutes. You must stay with your instructor so he/she can take roll calls. Students need to be quiet in the basement as the BERT members are listening to emergency instructions on handheld radios and cannot hear well in the basement.

Fire: During the fall semester we have a Fire Drill. Pick up your belongings and your instructor will lead you to either the North or South parking lot depending on what part of the building your class is in. You must stay with your instructor so he/she can take roll calls. As soon as the building is all clear, you will be allowed to return to class. These drills are to train instructors and the Building Emergency Response Team to get everyone to a safe place during an emergency.

Bomb Threat: If someone calls in a bomb threat, class will be suspended and students will be asked to pick up their belongings, evacuate the building and leave the premises. Do not leave anything that is yours behind. We will not allow anyone back into the building until the police and bomb squad give us an all clear. DO NOT USE YOUR CELL PHONES. Some bombs are triggered by a cell phone signal.

Shooter in the Building: When it is safe to leave, move to a safe area far from the building where the shooter is located.  If you have any information about the shooter, please contact the police after you return home.  If you cannot leave, go into a room, lock the door, turn out the lights, and if possible, cover the glass on the door. Silence all cell phones after you call the police and inform them of your location. Be quiet and wait for the police to arrive.  The police are looking for one or more shooters, and they have no way of knowing if the shooter is in the room with you.   For that reason, when the police enter the room, no one should have anything in his/her hands and each person MUST raise his/her hands above his/her head.  

Earthquake: In the event of an earthquake you are advised to take cover quickly under heavy furniture or near an interior wall, a corner, to avoid falling debris. Outside the building are trees and power lines and debris from the building itself that you will need to stay away from. In the building, large open areas like auditoriums are the most dangerous. Do not try to escape on a stairway or elevator. Do not hide under a stairway. We do not recommend that you stand in a doorway because the door could shut from the vibrations and crush your fingers trapping you there.

Women's Self-Defense Class: For interested female students and female faculty and staff, the SIU Public Safety Department sets up free self-defense classes. The SIU Public Safety Department will be teaching this class. They teach a free class in the fall and spring at the Rec Center. In the fall you would register at the Rec Center for the Women's Self-Defense Class or RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) as it is sometimes called. If you have questions about registering for the class, you can send an email to lavong@siu.edu. LaVon is the contact in the Dean's Office in the Communications building that will assist you to try to find the class you need.