Assignment #3 - light and shadow
Due Tuesday, February 27 (in class)
CS 99D - The Science of Art
Winter Quarter, 2001
Your third assignment is to write a 3-4 page double-spaced paper on one of the
topics listed in the first section below. Alternatively, you may do one of the
projects listed in the second section. You may also choose another topic or
project if you clear it with me in advance. The format and rules for this
assignment are the same as in the first one. Don't forget to cite your sources
using footnotes and/or a list of references, as appropriate.
In Baxandall's essay about Molyneux's problem, Condillac's statue cannot
effectively utilize its sense of sight until also given the sense of touch. Do
you agree with this prediction? If a person were paralyzed from the neck down
and had sight but no touch, what would be their understanding of the world? If
they suddenly regained the use of their body, what difficulties might they
During your upcoming expedition to find the last Amazon tribe that has had no
contact with modern civilization, you wish to bring with you visual depictions
of the inventions, cities, and other wonders of the outside world. Some of
your teammates propose bringing line drawings. Others propose bringing
etchings with hatched shading, oil paintings, photographs, or even scale
models. Critically evaluate each proposal. Which do you think will be most
readily understood by the natives? Do you have other proposals? Feel free to
draw for inspiration on Baxandall's essay about Molyneux's problem, but I want
your thoughts, not his.
In our coverage of the history of chiaroscuro, we neglected to treat the
effects of changes in painting technology, in particular the switch from egg
tempera to oil-based paint in the 15th century and the development of synthetic
pigments in the 18th and 19th centuries. Working from Lamb and Bourriau's
Colour: Art and Science,
the appendicies in Baxandall's
Shadows and Enlightenment,
or other sources, trace this fascinating relationship between technology and
art from the Renaissance through the 19th century.
The recent cleaning of the Sistine Chapel ceiling suggests that Michelangelo,
rather than employing the Renaissance discovery that shadows should be dark,
tending toward black, instead adhered to medieval tradition, in which shadows
were fully saturated with color. If correct, then this radically changes our
view of Michelangelo and his art. If, on the other hand, we have cleaned away
Michelangelo's intended tones, as some critics claim, then we have ruined his
masterpiece forever. Read one of the many books about the cleaning. Then read
James Beck's scathing condemnation of it in
Art Restoration: the Culture, the Business, and the Scandal. Who is
Research and write a paper on an everyday optical effect not described
in Minnaert's book. (Finding one not covered in his book may be hard!) For
extra fun, target your essay at artists who might want to employ the effect.
This will require you to think not only about what causes the effect, but also
about how to paint it.
Write on the treatment of light and shadow in a non-Western-European culture.
Some non-writing projects
Create a illustration that convincingly depicts a scene in extremely bright
light, a scene in extremely dim light, or a scene with an extremely wide range
of illumination. Use any media you like, including computer graphics. You are
also welcome to experiment with extreme viewing conditions as described in
Create photographic demonstrations of as many of the optical effects described
in Minnaert's book as you can. You may use any kind of camera you wish
(film, polaroid, digital, video), but you must take your own photographs - no
borrowing from books.
In 1972 Carl Sagan designed a plaque for the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, the first
to leave our solar system, that carried greetings from earthlings to any
civilization that might intercept the spacecraft in the distant future. Design
a follow-on plaque that would communicate, probably in graphical form, the
structure of our urban environment. Think carefully about the visual
conventions you are using, whether an extra-terrestial civilization would
understand them, and what elements you might include to promote that
The David Disk: an independent study (or summer) project
An important problem related to archiving digitized cultural artifacts is
insuring longevity for the bits. This is a hard problem, and although many
solutions have been proposed, none have yet proven practical.
In lieu of a practical solution, I have been exploring the radical alternative
of manufacturing an engraved disk that contains a microscopic but optically
readable numerical representation of our three-dimensional computer model of
Michelangelo's David. Once designed, multiple copies of the disk would be
manufactured and deposited with selected cultural institutions for safekeeping.
By coincidence, the year 2004 is the 500th anniversary of the carving of the
David, and there will be special exhibitions about the statue at museums around
the world. It's a convenient deadline for finishing our disk.
The goal of this project is to create a "backup" of Michelangelo's David that
will last 10,000 years. Like the plaque Carl Sagan made for the Pioneer
spacecraft, designing an artifact that can communicate over such a gulf of time
is an interesting undertaking. How can we convey to a future human
civilization the idea of a triangle mesh? Or the convention of describing
triangles using three-dimensional cartesian coordinates? What numerical system
should we use to denote these coordinates? What graphical conventions should
we employ in writing these numbers?
Is anybody interested in helping?
Copyright © 2001 Marc Levoy
March 7, 2001 03:17:25 AM