Recommended Old Books for 2012
With the festive season coming up, I’ve compiled this short list of five out-of-print books that I’ve obtained my own copies of this year. In times past, I’ve usually borrowed these titles from our university library and found myself regularly coming back to them for inspiration. However, years of borrowing have seen many of the library copies a lot worse for wear (not due to me I should emphasise), and some are now missing altogether from the library shelves—shame on you book thieves!
With the advent of on-line second-hand book sites such as Abe Books its now so much easier to find these out-of-print titles, usually at a reasonable price. So here are my highly recommended list of old books for 2012.
The First Artificial Intelligence Coloring Book
by Harold Cohen, Becky Cohen, Penny Nii. With a foreword by Edward Feigenbaum. William Kaufmann, Inc. Los Altos, California, 1984.
Before Harold Cohen’s AI art system AARON was making sophisticated pictures of people and trees it was learning to make simple drawings as a child might do. The book aims to simultaneously teach symbolic AI and art-making, while discussing some of the thinking behind Cohen’s bold AI-art experiment. Suitable for children and adults, it’s framed around a conversation between Harold and two inquisitive children who are “exchanging ideas about decision-making, coloring, the creative process and art in general.”
The book contains a foreword by Ed Feigenbaum, with whom Harold spent a two year sabbatical at the Stanford AI Lab, when AI was still a “young science”. At the time, most of AARON’s output was via a pen plotter.
Included with the book are 35 computer-made line drawings which can be hand coloured and detached from the book itself. The drawings have a child-like simplicity—AI doodles—that could easily be mistaken for real children’s drawings.
While both AI and art (and AI art) have moved on, the book manages to raise many important questions, stimulating discussion while being fun and playful at the same time. Who could have thought colouring-in could be an educational experience in artificial intelligence. The book’s willingness to bring computer art and art into the domain of the ordinary was ground breaking, something sadly lacking in so many newer texts today. Moreover, the pictures are great (personally I like them even more than much of AARON’s later output), so get yourself a copy and get colouring!
Patterns In Nature
by Peter S. Stevens, 1st Edition, Little Brown & Co., 1974, Penguin Books reprint 1977.
Patterns in Nature was a classic from the moment it was first printed in 1974. I first became aware of this book from the late Alain Fournier who’s inspiring Siggraph course, The Modeling of Natural Phenomena, has always been my favourite.
Constructivism: Origins and Evolution
by George Rickey. Revised edition. George Braziller, New York 1967.
A visual tour-de-force of constructivist art from its origins to the dynamic works of the 1960s. This book should be on the recommended reading for any course on generative art or creative coding.
George Rickey was a sculptor and Professor of Art at Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, New York. Like Peter Stevens he received a Guggenheim fellowship during which he developed many of the ideas for the book. It is richly illustrated (in Black and White) with all manor of light-sculpures, kinetic works, and geometric abstractions. Following a discussion on the origins of constructivist art, a series of chapters consider different approaches to medium and process, including Optical Phenomena, Micro-elements, Chance, Movement, Light and Color (which, unlike the others is covered in a mere 4 pages and with no illustration!). Each chapter discusses processes and is detailed with example works, including those by John McLaughlin, Alexander Calder, Bridget Riley and Lucas Samaras.
The book provides both good inspiration and valuable reflection for the aspiring generative artist. A worthy addition to your library if you are serious about understanding many of the precursors to contemporary generative and computational art.
Handbook of Regular Patterns: An Introduction to Symmetry in Two Dimensions
by Peter S. Stevens. First edition, 1981. MIT Press paperback edition 1984.
Yes, I’ve included two books by Peter S. Stevens, and why not! This 1980s followup to Patterns in Nature is a comprehensive visual study of all the symmetry groups, summed up by the quote from Owen Jones:
See how various the forms and
how unvarying the principles.
Just as interesting (to me) as the book itself is the author’s inspiration for writing it: George Birkhoff‘s 1933 classic Aesthetic Measure which attempted to mathematically define an aesthetic measure for simple geometries, such as regular polygons and vases. Handbook of Regular Patterns, however, has much in common with Owen Jones’s Grammar of Ornament (which might be on my best old books of 2013 list…). While Carsten Nicolai attempted a post-modern equivalent with Grid Index, Stevens’ book has far greater scholarship (in fact far more explanatory text) giving it an exemplary explanatory power.