Centre News

Computational art CentreTerm class brings art and science together

January 26, 2012 By Elizabeth Trollinger
In the CentreTerm course Introduction to Computational Art,
taught by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Forrest
Stonedahl, students had the opportunity to create artwork
through computer programming. Pictures in the slideshow
above are from an exhibit of the students' final projects.

Students are not often given the opportunity to study art and science in one class. In the CentreTerm course Introduction to Computational Art, however, they were able to do just that.

The course, taught by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Forrest Stonedahl, focused on the creation of art through computational means. Students were given the chance to create a wide variety of works, including still life and landscape images, moving images using computer generated special effects and even music and poetry. The project-based class allowed students to step out of the boundaries of art and science and bring them together.

“Watching the students was inspiring — many of them didn’t think of themselves as artists before this, and were uncomfortable with the idea of being artists at first, but became more comfortable with it as the class progressed,” Stonedahl says. “Many of them also learned how to create code for the first time with this class. We worked from the ground up.”

Stonedahl knew the class would be a challenge for his students, but he has been pleased with the results.

“Some of them were expecting the class to be easier than it was — they said, ‘I had no idea I would work this hard.’ But I wanted to push them to create something they’d be proud of,” Stonedahl says. “By and large, they’ve been enthusiastic about the class — the nature of the material is motivating, because they get to create something cool.”

Ian Powell ’13 enjoyed the way the class brought together the artistic and scientific.

“This class was different for me, as a math major. Math concepts are hard for me to connect to artistic things, so this was a big change,” Powell says. “I’m very glad I took this class.”

Classmate Zachary Trette ’14 agrees.

“I liked everything about this class — it was great to be able to just type something in and create art from it,” he says.

The class maintained a blog throughout CentreTerm and also did numerous projects. For their final projects, the students all created their own original artwork through computer programming and displayed it in an exhibit. Rachael Reynolds ’12 created her own version of the Foucalt pendulum that hangs in Olin Hall, covering it with artwork she made in the class.

“The artwork itself was created using a simulation of a pendulum,” Reynolds says. “I also made backgrounds on each of the pieces of art I created that represent the times of day — morning, noon and night — as well as the four seasons.”

The CentreTerm course presented new challenges to Reynolds, but she met them head-on and enjoyed the class.

“I had never taken a computer science course before this one — but after learning the language of computer science, I had a lot of fun playing with the program,” she says.

Computer science major Bryan Lindsey ’12 has taken his fair share of computer science courses before, but he agrees that this class stands out.

“It’s definitely different, and it appealed to me because of the art component,” Lindsey says. “It was awesome to see art and science come together in this class.”

For his final project, Lindsey used motion capture technology to create an animated person. In a short film called “Cyborg,” Lindsey and the animated person have a dance competition.

“The film is about human and computer interaction,” Lindsey says. “Computers generating art may seem weird, but computers continue to get closer to humans, and through that progression, the disparity between computers and humans is beginning to resolve.”

Ultimately, the class showed students that art and science have more in common than they may have originally believed.

“This class was about unleashing creativity. Computer science is about making things, and this course was ultimately about that, too,” Stonedahl says. “I had a lot of fun with it and look forward to teaching the class again in the future.”

Stonedahl is glad that his CentreTerm course challenged perceptions about art and computer science.

“This class allowed the left and right brains to come together,” says Stonedahl. “It was exemplary of a liberal arts education.”

Have comments, suggestions, or story ideas? E-mail elizabeth.trollinger@centre.edu with your feedback.

Centre College, founded in 1819 and chosen to host its second Vice Presidential Debate in 2012, is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges, at 42nd in the nation, and ranks 27th for best value among national liberal arts colleges. Forbes magazine ranks Centre 34th among all the nation’s colleges and universities and has named Centre in the top five among all institutions of higher education in the South for three years in a row. Centre is also ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News for its study abroad program. For more, click here.

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