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Kathryn Farley, Generative Systems

Program Influences

In devising lesson plans, reading lists and exercises for Generative Systems courses, Professor Sheridan was influenced by concepts developed by instructors at the Staatliches Bauhaus and the New Bauhaus, art and architecture schools that sought to unify creativity, craft and technology. The Bauhaus curriculum recognized machines to be important tools of production and industrial design to be a core subject of study. In formulating the content of Generative Systems classes, Professor Sheridan integrated ideas and practices derived by Bauhaus educators, most especially in the area of color theory. Assignments for Process I and Process II classes, for example, expanded upon exercises that Johannes Itten had introduced to students in the Basic Course at the Staatliches Bauhaus, exploring the emotional and aesthtic properties of color. (1) Re-inforcing Itten’s emphasis on the functional applications of theory, the assigments that Professor Sheridan created for Process I and II aimed to provide participants in Generative Systems classes the ability to solve complex scientific and engineering problems using practical means. (2)

Professor Sheridan’s ideas about the content and structure of Generative Systems courses were also shaped by her interest in new media analyses, particularly the critical examination of communications structures and their impact on human behavior. Drawing inspiration from the work of cybernetic theorists such as Norbert Wiener who investigated the behavioral dimensions of mechanical tools and processes, Professor Sheridan sought to design a program that would respond to rapid technological changes in a creative manner. (3) In her words, “(t)he Generative Systems attitude was extremely sensitive to and receptive to change, to continual and dynamic change in the interrelationships among technology, social conditions and art.” (4) Also, integrating the process-orientated features of systems analysis, a field dedicated to exploring complex, large scale systems, Professor Sheridan crafted her classroom environment to function as a dynamic organism in which, “the mind/body of the human being could create closed systems and open systems, neither one negating the other, but, rather, each complementing the other in the process of continual becoming.” (5)

Kathryn Farley © 2007 FDL

(1) A thorough description of Itten’s exercises and a discussion about their application to art education can be found in his book, The Art of Color: the Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color, Trans. Ernst von Haeger (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Publishing, 1961).

(2) To find out about assignments and exercises in Generative Systems classes, including Process I and II, please visit the “Core Curriculum” section of this project.

(3) Norbert Wiener’s theories about technology and feedback processes can be found in his book, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1961).

(4) 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. 322.

(5) Sonia Landy Sheridan, “Mind/Senses/Hand: The Generative Systems Program at the Art Institute of Chicago 1970-1980,” Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, vol. 23, no. 2/3 (December 1990) p. 180.