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Kathryn Farley, Generative Systems

Art/Science/Industry Collaborations

From its inception as an experimental teaching strategy to its implementation as a formal program of study, Generative Systems has served as a model of art/science/industry integration. Businesses involved in producing communications devices and artists employing media in production capacities were instrumental in shaping Generative Systems’ unique curriculum. (1) Commenting on the contribution of industry to the development of Generative Systems program of study, Professor Sheridan has remarked, “The support of industry was helpful not only directly by providing us with aid and equipment, but also because it exemplified the multilateral relationships we thought necessary in the new art activity we were developing.” (2) By making commercial instruments, personnel and techniques available to students of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and working closely with businesses to ensure continued access to equipment, the program represented an educational partnership that challenged traditional approaches to art instruction and analysis, as this letter by the Director of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to a public relations executive at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company attests. (c)

As Mr. Irving’s letter indicates, beginning in 1970, 3M granted participants in Generative Systems classes access to a Color-in-Color copy machine, the first full-colour duplication device of its kind on the market. (3) A few years later, Sheridan rented two Xerox desktop copiers for the purposes of classroom instruction and acquired a Haloid imaging system manufactured by the company. Haloid Xerox technology represented a high-end photographic format. In 1974, she purchased a VQC from 3M. Towards the end of the decade, she began to employ a computer graphics system in her courses that had been developed by John Dunn (a graduate teaching assistant).

Industry also lent support to Generative Systems in the form of personnel (engineers, scientists and company executives) who acted as advisers, mentors and guest lecturers. In this interview excerpt, Professor Sheridan speaks about the impact of industry representatives in the classroom. (a) Artists who utilized technology to produce work were also invited to visit Generative Systems classes and discuss their methods of creation, as Professor Sheridan recalls. (b)

Besides enhancing the program’s curriculum, the presence of scientists, artists, engineers, industry executives in Generative Systems courses helped to forge a community of technological art practitioners and enthusiasts that extended far beyond the physical boundaries of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As it developed, the program continued to gain momentum, build solidarity and generate interest from individuals across the country and around the globe via workshops and demonstrations presented by Professor Sheridan, as this letter from one enthusiastic participant demonstrates. (d)

Kathryn Farley © 2007 FDL

(1) Please visit the “Core Curriculum” category of this project to learn about the content and direction of Generative Systems classes.

(2) Sonia Landy Sheridan, “Generative Systems at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1970-1980,” Visual Resources: an International Journal of Documentation, vol. XXII, no. 4 (December 2006) p. 324.

(3) For a description of the machines provided by industry and information about their uses in Professor Sheridan’s classes, please visit the “Processes” section of this project. It should be noted that administrators of School of the Art Institute of Chicago decided in 1972 not to renew the agreement with 3M for use of the Color-in-Color machine due to fiscal concerns. From then on, Professor Sheridan opted to purchase equipment and arrange for access to technology on her own.