Course outline and schedule

CS 48N - The Science of Art
Winter Quarter, 2009
Marc Levoy
Handout #1

Table of contents:


Marc Levoy
Gates Computer Science Building, Room 366
Office hours: Tue/Thu, 11:00 - 12:15 and by appointment

Class schedule

In this seminar, we will study the development of Western illusionistic art from the Renaissance through the end of the nineteenth century. There are four main topics, as shown below, and we will consider each from the standpoint of science and of art. To enrich our coverage of this material, we will also study several secondary topics, as shown. The positioning of these, usually in the class after each paper is assigned, gives you time to write your papers before we move on to the next topic.

January 6 Introduction
Topic 1: Perspective
January 8 Perspective through the Renaissance
January 13 The geometry of perspective
January 15 Perspective after the Renaissance paper #1 assigned
January 20 The structure of intellectual revolutions
Topic 2: Illustration
January 22 Anatomy and landscape paper #1 due
January 27 The physical sciences paper #2 assigned
January 29 Computed-aided illustration
February 3 Student Day paper #2 due
Topic 3: Light and Shadow
February 5 Light sources and reflection
February 10 Shadow, interreflection, perception
February 12 Light and shadow in art paper #3 assigned
February 17 Tour of computer graphics laboratory
February 19 Student Day paper #3 due
Topic 4: Color
February 24 Color theories through 1800
February 26 Modern color theory
March 3 Color in art paper #4 assigned
March 5 Wrapup
March 10 Student Day paper #4 due
March 12 Field trip to Legion of Honor


Reading is an integral part of any humanities course. In this seminar, we will read some primary works - by famous artists and scientists, and some secondary works - by critics and historians. These readings, mostly book chapters and a few books, are available in the bookstore or will be xeroxed and handed out in class. You are expected to complete the readings on time and be prepared to discuss them in class. These readings also constitute the primary source material for the papers you will write.

Here is a list of those required readings that are available in the bookstore:

  1. Kemp, M., The Science of Art,
    Yale University Press, 1990.
  2. Leonardo Da Vinci, Leonardo on Painting, translated by M. Kemp and M. Walker,
    Yale University Press, 1989.
  3. Kuhn, T.S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, third edition,
    University of Chicago Press, 1996. (Any edition is fine.)
  4. Minnaert, M.G.J., Light and Color in the Outdoors, translated and revised by L. Seymour,
    Springer-Verlag, 1993.
  5. Gardner, H., Art Through the Ages, twelfth edition,
    Wadsworth Publishing, 2004. (10th or 11th edition is fine.)

Although we'll read all of Kuhn, we'll only read excerpts from Kemp, Da Vinci, and Minneart. Gardner's book is a standard textbook on art history. Many of the examples I will show in class come from this book. In past years, students found it useful to buy it. It will also bring lasting enjoyment. However, it is expensive, so I do not require it. Also, if you already own another standard art history textbook (some Stanford courses require Honour and Fleming's The Visual Arts: A History), then you can use it in place of Gardner.

In addition to these required readings, I have compiled a bibliography (handout #2) of materials relevant to each topic in the course. These materials, typically book chapters or research papers, either cover the current topic in greater depth than we have time for in class, or they focus on a single artist or work. I obviously don't expect you to read all of this material, but you're encouraged to draw on it when writing your papers.

Four short papers

Writing is also an important part of any humanities course. In this seminar, you will write four short papers (5 double-spaced pages each). (Before you panic about this requirement, look at the section below on "Non-writing projects".) The topics for these papers will be the four major topics in the seminar: Perspective, Illustration, Light and Shadow, and Color. On the dates indicated in the course outline, I will hand out a list of specific questions related to the current topic. Most of these questions will draw from the readings we have discussed in class, but some of them will refer to items in the course bibliography. You may choose any of these questions to write about, or you may choose another subject if you clear it with me in advance. Papers must be typed or computer-printed, not handwritten, and they must be turned in on the date indicated. As you can see from the outline, you have about one week to write each paper.

An oral presentation

Once during the quarter, each of you will present the key ideas of one of your papers orally in class during Student Day. Given the limited class time available for these presentations, they will necessarily be short - 10-15 minutes each. Decisions regarding who presents on which day will be made informally in class. Your presentation is not intended to be a reading of your paper, but a proper talk. In other words, it should be lively and should engage the class in discussion. In the past some students have used Powerpoint slides as a visual aid during their talks, but this is up to you. If two or more of you choose the same question for your papers, you should meet and coordinate your talks so as to minimize repetition.

Non-writing projects

As an alternative to writing papers, you may replace up to two of your four papers with projects of your own choosing. These can be programming projects, experimental demonstrations, works of art related to the class topics, etc. Lists of suggested topics and readings will be provided, but I encourage you to be creative; just check with me before going too far out on a limb. Projects can be presented orally in class just like papers, and they should be submitted, in whatever written or tangible form is appropriate for the project, on the due date for that paper.

Grading policy

Evaluation criteria: The four papers will each count as 20% of your grade, the oral presentation as 10%, and class participation as 10%. If you choose to do a project in place of a paper, I am prepared to weight it more heavily relative to your written papers, depending on how much effort you expend on it. There will be no exams.

Attendance: Since this is a small-group seminar, I expect everybody to attend every class. One unexcused absence will be allowed. Beyond this, each unexecused absence will subtract 5% from your grade for the course. Besides, it would give me great pleasure to see your alert, smiling face in the classroom. After all, that's why I teach!

Late assignments: Since the readings and assignments come in rapid succession, it is important that each be completed on time. To allow for unforeseeable circumstances, you will be allowed one weekday of grace on one of your papers. Beyond this, late papers will be penalized by 10% per weekday that they are late. Obviously, your oral presentation cannot be late.

About collaboration

You are welcome to discuss any aspect of the course, including the paper questions and your oral presentation, with anyone you like. However, your writing should be your own. You are also permitted to quote, paraphrase, or borrow ideas from others, but you should always cite your sources, including the Internet. Use standard bibliographic form. Substantive discussions with classmates about paper questions should be cited with a numbered reference in the text (1) and an entry in the list of references, like this:

	1.  Pat Hanrahan, personal communication.

On projects, you are permitted to form teams of two or three people and to partition the work amongst you.

Course web pages

A hierarchy of web pages has been created for this course. Its home page is:
Links from this page point to all handouts, schedules, and so on. We will also link into this hierarchy any student-produced images, demo programs, Powerpoint presentations, etc. that seem appropriate.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Levoy
Last update: January 26, 2009 04:35:43 PM