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The Course of Empire Digital Exploration

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Overview

This project served as my thesis artifact for my MFA in Design at Ohio State University.

The subject matter for this thesis study is american landscape painter Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire series (1833-36) consisting of five oil paintings. In the series Cole displays the rise and fall of civilization. In my research process, I created a variety of digital artifacts that I used to uncover the hidden complexities and genius behind these paintings allowing the viewer to see Cole’s work in a new way, creating new dialogue with the paintings.

The process consisted of exploration, experimentation, and making. Initially beginning with curiosities, I utilized a custom built tool that allows me to investigate different forms of perceived motion and composition in Cole's paintings, such as the golden ratio. This tool is an interactive application built in Unity to allow me to observe the paintings in an unconventional way. These leads to new questions asked about the paintings and a more directed review of its current information. These culminate in a greater understanding of the work in a personal, engaging, and contemporary setting.

From there, I participated in a process of critical making and response by creating artifacts that are embodiments of my discoveries.

Ultimately, these studies form a video that reveals my discoveries in visual ways to the audience. Techniques include multiplane animation effects, graphical overlays, and superimposed segments of images for comparison.


Thesis Artifact

This is a sample of visuals included in my thesis film, Past Pigment. The video progresses by cycling through each of the five paintings and introducing more complex visuals each time.

 

Internal Exploration

This tool is an interactive application built in Unity to allow me to observe the paintings in an unconventional way. These lead to new questions asked about the paintings and a more directed review of its current information. These culminate in a greater understanding of the work in a personal, engaging, and contemporary setting. 

Interact with the tool yourself HERE

 

Externalization

Taking information found in the above tool and review of literature surrounding my curiosities, I construct a video that features the information in visual ways, which culminate in a short film that expresses my discoveries to an audience.

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Thomas Cole’s fine paintings in The Course of Empire