News of changes, events and new releases.
Lumia, images and links to other sites where people are creating dynamic visual art.
Software and ideas for creating your own lumia, including instruments to connect sound and vision.
Comments from visitors like you.
Credits, footnotes, bios, and other loose ends.
Annotated bibliographies, books, a timeline, profiles of pioneers, and other historical and background material.
Full-text copies of books from the late 19th and early 20th century.
Annotated listings of books and articles related to the history, theory, and techniques of designing instruments and producing lumia.
Highlights in the history of art, science and invention that has produced a visual art like music.
Discussions of topics and background material of interest to lumianists.
Other web sites with related historical and theoretical information.
Order visual music for your computer.

For convenience, this bibliography is organized into several sections. Some of the works span boundaries, so I have located them in the section that seems most relevant.

Lumia & Instruments for Creating Them

Bill Alves, “Digital harmony of sound and light, Computer Music Journal, 29 (2005), 45-54. In this article, Bill describes how he has combined John Whitney’s differential dynamics with Just intonation to create sound and image simultaneously. In doing so, he focuses particularly on establishing interesting consonances and on exploring the “multidimensional interplay of tension and resolution” that so interested Whitney.

Fred Collopy, "Playing (With) Color," Glimpse | the art + science of seeing, Autumn 2009, vol 2.3, pp. 62-67. Color has played a central role in the development of visual instruments. Some of the principles developed by early pioneers continue to provide guidance to how it can be used effectively in performance. (download pdf version).

Fred Collopy, “Visual Music as a Performing Art”, Offscreen, Volume 11, Issue 8-9, August-September 2007, article 10. Inventors to painters to filmmakers to inventors, the history of the art form is very briefly discussed in this essay that I did for a special issue edited by Randolph Jordan. I also wrote and expanded version of the essay with the expanded title As visual music (re)asserts itself as a performance art".

Fred Collopy and Robert M. Fuhrer, “A visual programming language for expressing visual rhythms,” Journal of Visual Programming Languages, 12, 2001, 283-297. Sonnet+Imager is an object-based toolkit for creating instruments that produce abstract graphics in real-time. It is implemented as a visual programming language of the component-circuit variety. It was designed by identifying and addressing some of the principle limitations in the Max-based graphics engine, Imager. Beyond that, we wanted to address rhythm directly. This required us to make time a first-class element of the language. The model of time relies for its power on the notion of functors, an encapsulation of mathematical functions that can be related to the dimensions of rhythm. All of the elements of time manifest themselves directly in the visual language, as components and data packets, thereby creating natural flows that describe rhythmic structures. The resulting design is modular, intuitive, interactive and extensible. (If you wish a copy, send a mailing address to

Fred Collopy, “Color, form, and motion: Dimensions of a musical art of light,” Leonardo, Vol. 33, No. 5, 2000, 355-360. Lumia are an abstract art form that permits visual artists to play images in the way that musicians play with sounds. After briefly surveying the history of the art form, Thomas Wilfred's approach to organizing the controls around color, form, and motion is presented. One benefit of this approach is that each of the domains has a rich literature that can be looked to for ideas and guidance. (download pdf version).

Fred Collopy, Robert M. Fuhrer and David Jameson, “Visual music in a visual programming language,” IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages, 1999, 111-118. Sonnet was designed as a visual language for implementing real-time processes. Early design and development of the behavioral components has largely focused on music programming.We have developed a collection of visual output components for Sonnet, referred to collectively as Sonnet+Imager. Its design embodies aesthetically grounded representations of color, form, and motion as well as dynamics for each. Its flexible and modular architecture treats these graphic entities and operations as first-class objects. (download pdf version).

Roger B. Dannenberg, “Interactive visual music: A personal perspective,” Computer Music Journal, 29 (2005), 25-35. Roger has been experimenting with the integration of visuals and music since 1987. As he notes in the opening of this article, his interest is not in visuals as accompaniment or as interpretation of the audio, but as co-created, “an integral part of the music and the listener/viewer experience.” This article presents a good deal of history, especially related to how visual possibilities changed with available technologies over the two decades his work covers. And it includes an overview of Aura, which Dannenberg and others designed to integrate the elements of multi-media performance. But what I found most interesting are the bits of advice that Roger’s explorations have produced. He suggests, for example, that when visuals are tied to the “deep, hidden information, the audience may perceive that there is some emotional, expressive, or abstract connection, but the animation and music can otherwise be quite independent and perhaps more interesting.” He points out that “many composers take care to ‘teach’ their listeners what their music is about by stating themes clearly, by repeating important material, and by developing ideas slowly at least early on. This approach can be taken with visual material as well.” And he cautions that “composers should be careful not to fall into the trap of mapping musical experience directly into the visual world.”

Tom DeWitt, “Visual music: Searching for an aesthetic,” Leonardo, 20 (1987), 115-122. Developing an aesthetic for this emerging art form must both extend the musical aesthetic into the visual domain and accommodate what is specific to the intrinsic properties of the visual system. DeWitt describes several elements he has identified in the course of his work. One relates to his use of logarithmic spirals to produce a kind of visual harmony, because they have stable structures only at certain fixed intervals of frequency (he acknowledges Whitney's contribution to this). Another is the threshold between monochrome and color. DeWitt feels that this transition triggers a psychological release. He notes that persistence of vision closely matches our aural perceptions where discrete sound events become continuous tones at about 20 cycles per second and observes that one aesthetic that carries over from music to the visual arts is tempo. The search for elements of the musical aesthetic that can be employed in visual art must, though, be approached with an appreciation of an important difference between the ear and the eye. When the ear is exposed to the summation of many sounds simultaneously the brain extracts the individual elements. This is a subtracting process. However, with the eye it is different. There the brain provides missing or hidden elements; an adding process (download pdf version).

Brian Evans, “Foundations of a visual music,” Computer Music Journal, 29 (2005), 11-24. Evans extends the thinking in his excellent 1990 article to further the development of “a practical theory of visual music composition.” As in that earlier work, he starts with the assumption that tension and it release can be used to move us through time. And again he looks to a hierarchical color model to help address some of color’s inherently subjective characteristics. But what is most exciting here is Evans’ creative application to Serge Eisensteine’s ideas about film to visual music. In particular he demonstrates the application of propotion, temporal design (including repetition, contrast and variation) and montage (at several levels) to supporting the creation of visual music. And his examples are excellent illustrations of the ideas he explores.

Brian Evans, “Temporal coherence with digital color,” Leonardo Digital Image-Digital Cinema Supplemental Issue,1990, 43-49. The author proposes that extracting basic principles from the time-based art forms of theater, poetry, music, and dance and applying them along with fundamental principles from color theory and graphic design provides a useful starting point for devising a language of abstract visual composition. He illustrates using the idea of tension-release, a common idea in time-based art. Applying the idea to the domain of color, he proposes a hierarchy of color. A relaxed or resolved domain can be found in a grayscale, or absence of color. This is the first level of a hierarchy. The second level is a balanced color domain, in which the sums of the colors neutralize to an equal gray. The third level is the weighted domain, where one hue is dominant. Tension then moves to resolution from weighted to balanced to neutral color domains. The article provides details for computing the necessary color measures and defining color palettes.

Sydney Fels, Kazushi Nishimoto and Kenji Mase, “MusiKalscope: A graphical musical instrument,” IEEE Multimedia, July-Sept 1998, 26-35. MusiKalscope is a virtual drum-based instrument that plays both a graphic image and music. The image projects a kaleidoscopic representation of the performer. It becomes bluer ("for a sense of foreboding") when the player plays a tension note. It returns to normal color when the a chord note is played. Brightness of the image is related to how fast the player plays the virtual drum pad. The design reflects three objectives: 1) maintain a balance between quality of graphics and music generated; 2) allow novices to achieve reasonable quality; and 3) impose no performance ceiling so that with training, greater expressiveness is possible.

Maarten Franssen, “The ocular harpsichord of Louis-Bertrand Castel: The science and aesthetics of an eighteenth-centure cause celebre,” Tractrix Yearbook for the History of Science, Medicine, Technology and Mathematics, 1991 (3), 15-77. Castel’s ocular harpsichord is widely considered the first color music instrument. This well-researched piece examines both the instrument and the impact of the ideas behind it. Working from Athanasius Kircher’s analogies between sound and light and Newtons ideas for a color scale, Castel argued that a color music could be even more satisfying than aural music. Though Castel initially considered his job done when he demonstrated that his ideas were sound, he went on to build and demonstrate actual instruments. The extent and success of these efforts is not clear, though Franssen presents evidence that suggests the inventor was never satisfied that his goals were achieved. Franssen then turns his attention to other harpsichord builders including Johann Gottlog Kruger whose design attempted to solve the problem of chords which were missing in Castel’s design. In the second half of the article, Franssen examines the impact of, and the debate over, Castel’s ideas. Problems and issues were discussed by the likes of Voltaire, Euler, Telemann, and Diderot. Finally, the impact of Castel’s ideas on 18th century Romanticism is examined. Here we get a sense of what Rousseau, Kant and the French music theorist Chabanon thought about the prospects of a color music. This paper is an engaging and far-reaching account of ideas that continue to resonate through the visual music community (download pdf version).

Mary Hallock Greenewalt, Nourathar: The fine art of light color playing, Philadelphia: Westbrook Publishing, 1946. In this book the author deals with everything from the design of rooms and furnishings to be used for light performances through a notation system for recording them. It even includes a light score for the first movment of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonate, which the author claims is the first light-color score in the history of the world. The range of topics about which she writes reflects that of her experiments. She is responsible for many innovations in the field. The book describes her many pantents, as well as her approach to playing, and her ideas about color and how the field should develop. Where most of the designers of light instruments merely aspired to imitate music's greatness, Mary Hallock Greenewalt believed that light would best it. “Did I not unconsciously want and need the rays of light because they went vibrations of sound one better for completing, for pushing still further inwards the messages that sounds portrayed and conveyed? Such a one could well be a next in the order of fine art progress, with all fine art considered as a whole. Musical sounds antedating this, the more recent conception, are rougher in their vibratory effect. Light is still finer. It is still deeper in its infiltration, within the body's tissues (p. 45).”

Paola Igliori [ed.], American magus Harry Smith: A modern alchemist, New York: Inanout Press, 1996. Igliori, an enthusiast of Smith's, has created a rich profile of his life and times. It includes recollections by filmmaker Jordan Belson, poet Allen Ginsberg, photographer Robert Frank, and 17 others, many of them original interviews. It also contains some things that Smith wrote, interviews he gave, and a list of some of the things in the eclectic collection he compiled as “archivist of sediments of human activity in motion.”

Randy Jones and Ben Nevile, “Creating visual music in Jitter: Approaches and techniques,” Computer Music Journal, 29 (2005), 55-70. This article provides a good introduction to the timing and threading issued involved in using Jitter to create graphics, particular in a context where you are also using Max/MSP to generate audio. The article opens with a discussion of synaesthesia and proposes several one-to-one mappings between audio and visuals, including frequency to size (high to small; low to large), amplitude of sound to brightness of image (because both measure intensity), and tembre to shape (with complex harmonic tempres being more spiky than simpler ones which would be smoother).

Tom Douglas Jones, The art of light & color, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1972. Jones created several color light instruments—the Colortron, the Sculptachrome, the Chromaton, and the Celeston. The Colortron was a portable box with rheostats controlling red, blue, green, white and daylight bulbs to demonstrate the effect of mixing them in various proportions. The Sculptachrome combined kinetic sculpture with mobile colored lights. The Chromaton added abstract forms in front of colored light bulbs which were then projected onto a translucent screen. The viewer on the other side saw the shadows as they were projected from within. The Celeston projected light through bits of colored glass on wheels that rotated. In addition to instructions for constructing the instruments, the book includes a brief history, a discussion of color and psychotherapy, and chapters on the relationship of color and music.

Adrian Bernard Klein, Colour-Music: The art of light, London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1927. Of the early works in the field, this is among the most valuable. Klein's descriptions of the earliest color-music instruments are often more detailed than those provided by the developers themselves. The book opens with chapters on the history of color music and its relationsihp to painting, music and psychology. Klein's chapter on the problem of color harmony (what colors look good together) remains, over 70 years after its publication, the most thorough historical survey available. Similarly, his two chapters regarding a theory for color music (one examining the arguement for an anology to music; the other for an independent art), provide more food for thought than even the most recent writing and discussion group speculations on this topic.

Richard I. Land, “Kinetic art: The chromara, a lumia technique,” in Frank J. Malina [ed.], Kinetic art: Theory and practice, New York: Dover Publication, 1974, 30-36. The author describes a variety of devices created to produce lumia. Observing both images and sounds he concluded "After years of seeing the light intensities of lamps directly associated with the intensity of music, I am convinced that another way is required (p. 35)." He proposed applying a three passband filter of the audio frequencies, and using the relationship between intensities within the passbands to determine light intensity. The outputs of the filters could be summed or integrated to produce four signals having sophisticated relationships to the original audio signal. He further proposed introducing manual controls and rhythm-sensing circuits that would control motor speed or average illumination level.

Frank J. Malina, Kinetic art: Theory and practice (selections from the journal Leonardo), New York: Dover Publications, 1974. This volume includes pieces, originally published in Leonardo, that describe some of the early efforts to develop an integration of light and sound. Though the utility of many of the particular display devices has been eclipsed by graphic displays of images from general purpose computers, many of the ideas remain to be more fully explored. And the genius displayed in some of the mechanical solutions to the problem of associating light and sound remain an inspiration.

Frank J. Malina, “Kinetic painting: The lumidyne system,” in Frank J. Malina [ed.], Kinetic art, Theory and practice, New York: Dover Publication, 1974, 37-45.

Barton McLean, “Composition with sound and light,” Leonardo Music Journal, 2 (1992), 13-18.

Gordon Pask, “A comment, a case history and a plan,” in Jasia Reichardt [ed.], Cybernetics Art and Ideas, London: Studio Vista, 1971, 76-99. The cybernetician Gordon Pask spent the years from 1953 to 1957 involved in the design and presentation of an instrument that used musical input to create visual output. The player of the musical input became part of a loop with a machine that learned (through parameter adjustment). This article is a personal narrative, in which Pask describes the thinking behind his designs (including ideas about the cybernetic psychology of pleasure), details of the instrument's design (including flow charts and photographs), and the response of various audiences to the instrument. The last part of the article describes the plan for another cybernetic aesthetic environment, one that explores machines with simple goals.

Kenneth Peacock, “Instruments to perform color-music: Two centuries of technological experimentation,” Leonardo, 21 (1988), 397-406. The history of attempts to relate color and music is discussed, with a particular emphasis on the earliest efforts. Included are descriptions of early instruments by Luis-Bertrand Castel, Alexander Rimington, Modest Altschuler, and Thomas Wilfred. Peacock's thesis is that color-music instrument designers have not done very well at learning from history. "Nearly every color-organ inventor in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was under the delusion that he or she was the first to conceive of color-music (p.404)." Nor, he concludes, has it gotten much better since. "Every generation, it seems, must re-discover and re-define the art of color-music for itself. And rarely does there appear to be awareness that previous activity has occurred (p.406)." (download pdf version).

Ronald Pellegrino , The electronic arts of sound and light, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983. The book opens with a brief history of electronic sound and light through the mid-1970s. Though the history concentrates on developments in sound, of which there were many more than of light, it contains some important details of the latter. The book then provides chapters that deal with the nature of waves, synthesizers, computers, oscillographics, videographics, and lasers as each impacts on the creation of sound and images. It concludes with a chapter on composition, focusing on issues related to using the new electronic tools.

Frank Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art, Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1986. This sweeping history begins with Impressionism and moves through surrealism and geometrical abstraction to kinetic art. Of particular interest is the chapter Light and Movement which provides background on many of the less well-known innovators in the field.

Hans Richter, “Easel-Scroll-Film,” Magazine of Art, February 1952, 78-86. Richter describes how he and Viking Eggeling wrestled with the freedom that abstraction provided. After positioning their work in the context of other post-World War I artists who shared an interest in the problem of "order," he observes the he and Eggeling tackled it "by approaching it with the principle of counterpoint in mind, from the standpoint of polarity. The principle of counterpoint is not limited to music. For us, it was more than a technical device; it was a philosophic way of dealing with the experience of growth (p. 78)." Their movement from easel painting through scrolls to film is described in poetic terms, with a surprising amount of conceptual detail. After briefly surveying more recent developments, Richter speculates that: "Twenty years from now, film poetry may well be accepted as a legitimate part of film making and recognized as part of the tradition of modern art, whence it came and to which it belongs (p. 86)." (download pdf version)

A. Wallace Rimington, Colour-Music: The art of mobile colour, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1911. In this book, Rimington lucidly describes the principles that governed his design of several instruments to play color. The book opens with several chapters considering the relationship of color and music. While speculating about the nature of the relationships between the two, Rimington is careful not to overstate the claim that there is some essential correspondence. Indeed, he notes that even if no direct correspondence proves to exist, the value of colour music will not be diminished. The features and techniques he identifies in defining the art include rhythm, contrast and dissonance, gradual and sudden decreases or increases in intensity, harmony and discord, echo, repetition, and reflection. Likening it to music, he identified its indefiniteness as one of the factors contributing to colour-music's emotional power. While expressing some reservation about the movement away from representation in painting, he saw it as related to the same impulse that was driving the development of the new art. Though he argues that musical precedents are a reasonable way to establish a foundation for one form of color-music, he does so tentatively. With that background he describes the design of his colour-organ. In the design of his instruments Rimington was keenly aware of the "executant", and wished to create instruments that could be played in performance as well as composed for. Form played little role in Rimington's work. He recognized it as a factor that might be explored, but felt that colour by itself could be satisfying for an immense number and variety of compositions.

Joran Rudi, “Computer music video: A composer’s persepctive,” Computer Music Journal, 29 (2005), 36-44. This article looks at visual mappings as a subset of visual representations of music. The introductory sections argue that combining music with visuals “changes and recharges this notion of composition as research process, presenting opportunities to engage with recent and commercial techniques, such as DVD and computer game platforms.” Most of the article details the author’s compositions since 1987. An interesting aspect of his work is his attempt to use the combinations to assist listeners in discovering “those elements in the music that are most difficult to hear.”

Robert Russett and Cecile Starr, Experimental animation: Origins of a new art (2nd edition), New York: Da Capo Press, 1988 (original edition published in 1976 by Litton Educational Publishing). This is a major historical treatment of the field as of the time of its publication. It is primarily a collection of profiles of the animators who worked from 1912 to 1988 to create a new type of animation. It also contains an annotated bibliography, a listing of film and video distribution sources, and lots of illustrations.

S. R. Wagler, “Sonovision: A visual display of sound,” in Frank J. Malina [ed.], Kinetic art, Theory and practice, New York: Dover Publication, 1974, 162-164. The Sonovision system for a visual display of sound was invented by Lloyd G. Cross. When there is no sound input, its laser beam produces only a pinpoint of light.When a single musical note is introduced, the dot moves in an ellipse at the frequency of the sound. The size of the ellipse is related to the loudness. Different notes have ellipses at different orientations. When two notes are played simultaneously, a combination of two ellipses is produced. A second mode produces a circle in place of the dot and petal-type deviations from the circle when notes are played. Color (red, green, blue, and yellow) is introduced by using a prism.

John Whitney, Digital harmony: On the complementarity of music and visual art, Peterborough, NH: McGraw-Hill, 1980. This book documents Whitney's journey of discovery. The journey that started with his observations of "the geometry of iron rivets in iron plates painted white" on a Rotterdam-bound freighter in the summer of 1938. It culminates with his production of detailed descriptions of his applications of Pythagoras' laws of harmony to the creating of cinematic relationships involving music and abstract images. The chapters are mostly reproductions of papers he had published elsewhere. They include how-to computer code, detailed descriptions of particular film sequences, and lots or rumination about this enterprise that Whitney hoped and believed would soon emerge as a creative field.

Thomas Wilfred, “Light and the artist,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, (V) June 1947, 247-255. After presenting a brief history of the emergence of a new art of light, Wilfred described the elements that the lumianist must control. Light consists of form and color. For form, it is necessary to describe location, volume, shape, and character. For color, hue, chroma, value, and intensity. Further, the colored forms must be set in motion. To describe motion he proposed using orbit, tempo, rhythm, and field. Wilfred's enthusiam and optimism ("But first the Johann Sebastian Bach of lumia must appear on the scene. Let us hope that he is at least a high school student at the moment.") make this article worth seeking out, despite it's age (download pdf version).

Thomas Wilfred, “Composing in the art of lumia,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, (VII) December 1948, 79-93. In describing a scenario in which one creates a lumia, Wilfred identifies several principles that he feels should guide their development. One he refers to as "visual anchorage." When all of the form elements are being moved in one direction, they should not, except momentarily, exceed a certain critical velocity of motion, unless a relatively stable visual anchor is provided. He also makes a point in this article of differentiating the composition and playing of lumia from that of music. He thinks that the two arts are so different that "attempts to design lumia instruments in imitation of musical ones will prove as futile as attempts to write lumia compositions by following the conventional rules laid down for music." He also argues that the rules governing static composition and color harmony do not apply to form and color in motion. "If a lumia composition is stopped at any point, an analysis of the static image may show both form and color out of balance from the painter's point of view." He argues that we must instead blaze new trails, abandoning ones that prove useless.

Willard Huntington Wright, The future of painting, New York: B. W. Huebsch, Inc. 1923. The premise of this essay is that modernist painting is in reality an art of color. Through its brief 54 pages it argues his hypothesis both eloquently and thoughtfully. He draws on both his knowledge of art history and of the work of his brother Stanton MacDonald Wright and others to describe a visual art that like music and literature is capable of expressing the deepest human emotions. He ends by beginning the process of articulating principles for the new art. It is exciting to see that such a clear vision had been formulated by 1923. The full text of the book is available as a pdf file on the Classic Books page.

Painting & Abstract Art

Rudolf Arnheim, Art and visual perception: A psychology of the creative eye, Berkeley: CA: University of California Press, 1974 (the new version). The purpose of this book is to discuss how we see, with a particular focus on how we see art. Arnheim's attitude and style are established in the book's introduction. "Art is the most concrete thing in the world, and there is no justification for confusing the mind of anybody who wants to know more about it (p.7)." This is a book about concrete details, about helping anyone who wants to see art better. In its ten chapters, this book summarizes much of what artists and psychologists know about balance, shape, form, growth, space, light, color, movement, dynamics, and expression. Around each of these thematic concepts, the author discusses what we find attractive and why. I return to this book over and over again.

Karl Gerstner, Review of 5 x 10 Years of Graphic Desitn etc. (edited by Manfred Kroplien), Hatje Cantz, 2001. This is Gerstner the designer, though it opens with a lecture in which he argues that "Art = Design". Each of the five decades, the fiftiess through the nineties, of his professional carreer is profiled and profusely illustrated. Like his earlier books, it is beautiful and thought-provoking.

Karl Gerstner, The forms of color: The interaction of visual elements, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986. Gerstner's book is absolutely beautiful, as is his art. After general discussions of color and form systems, Gerstner presents what amount to case studies in which he examines Islamic form and Hans Hinterreiter's form organ in some detail . He then discusses his own extension and application of Kandinsky's basic form and color correlations. He applies the resulting Color Form Model to produce some very striking illustrations. The book finishes with one of the most stimulating discussions of the relationship of color and sound to be found among these works.

Karl Gerstner, The spirit of colors, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981. Karl Gerstner has spent his life as an artist digging ever more deeply into the nature of color and its use. This book is a kind of prelude to The forms of color. Many of the same themes are present, but here we see both the ideas and the works in their ealier form. His reflections on Goethe and Max Bill make the book woth seeking out even if you have The forms of color.

Marilyn S. Kushner, Morgan Russell, New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990. Morgan Russell was among the first American artists to respond to abstract art, with the development of Synchromism. Russell's work is among the most relevant of all artists of his time to the interests of imagists. As William Agee notes in the preface to this work "Russell equated light with color, and color with form, concerns that are at the very heart of his Synchromies of 1912-14." The book includes a chapter describing his experiments with Stanton Macdonald-Wright on developing kinetic light machines.

Karin v. Maur, The sound of painting: Music in modern art, Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1999. This is a broad and well researched examination of historical efforts to relate music and painting. In addition to many of the names familiar from other works listed here, it examines the ideas of less familiar painters, film-makers and composers. It is filled with stimulating insights about the nature of harmony and dissonance, rhythm, and approaches to a synthesis of music and painting.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Moholy-Nagy: An anthology (edited by Richard Kostelanetz), New York: DeCapo Press, 1970. Moholy-Nagy was associated with the Bauhaus and later brought many of its ideas to the United States where he was the president of the Chicago Institute of Design. This compilation of his essays along with critical essays by some of his contemporaries, represents the diversity of this thinking about art, education, and social and technological change. Of particular interest are the sections on film and light machines, which reflect the extent of Moholy-Nagy 's appreciation of the extraordinary potential for light as a medium of art and expression.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Vision in motion, Chicago, Paul Theobald, 1947. In this book Moholy-Nagy presents the ideas and work that he developed while at the Institute of Design in Chicago. It presents "a broader, more general view of the interconnectedness of art and life (p. 5)" than his earlier works. Among its many provocative predictions is this one: "Most of the visual work of the future lies with the 'light painter'. He will have the scientific knowledge of the physicist and the technological skill of the engineer coupled with his own imagination, creative intuition and emotional intensity. It is difficult to go into details yet, but in the coming experiments, research in the physiology of the eye and in the physical properties of light will play an important part (p. 168)."

Frank Whitford, Bauhaus, London: Thames and Hudson, 1984. The Bauhaus stands as one of the most ambitous experiments in art education in the modern era. The influence of the Bauhaus is out of proportion to its brief history (1919 to 1933) and relatively small size (the total enrollment of 1250 with only about a hundred students at the school at any one time). Many of the artists who figure in the development of lumia--including Klee, Kandinsky, Albers, Itten, and Max Brill--were among those who taught and studied there. This very readable history places the artistic movement that found its impetus there in its complex cultural and historical context; a context filled with strange and interesting personalities, difficult social and economic conditions, and extraordinary aspirations.


Richard Buchanan and Victor Margolin [eds.], Discovering design: Explorations in design studies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. This book was the output of a conference that was held at the University of Illinois in 1990. Twenty-five designers, design educators, and other scholars met to discuss the design process. Eleven papers are organized into three sections: shaping the subject, the world of action, and values and responsibilities.

Gregory Gargarian, The art of design, MIT PhD Thesis. Three chapters of this work are reproduced in Kafai and Resnick [eds.], Constructivism in practice: Designing, thinking and learning in a digital world, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996. Gargarian proposed two perspectives to guide design. They represent two kinds of answers to the question "How does the designer know whether he is making progress?" One kind of answer to this question has to do with managing design complexity. Another kind of answer has to do with evaluating the expressive utility of the artifact he is making. He brings a constructionist perspective to bear on his answers to the question. Papert characterized the constructionist educator as one who provides the learner with the freedom to demand knowledge when he is most receptive to it. Gargarian applies and illustrates these design perspectives with a Microworld program, The Textile Designer. There is much in his work that will aid the designers of digital instruments.

Yasmin Kafai and Mitchel Resnick [eds.], Constructionism in practice: Designing, thinking and learning in a digital world, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996.

Victor Margolin and Richard Buchanan [eds.], The idea of design, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995. This stimulating collection of essays, that were originally published in Design Issues, represents a shift in the focus of design thinking from its focus on the objects of design to its increasing focus on "the psychological, social, and cultural contexts that give meaning and value to products and to the discipline of design practice." Essays are organized in three sections: reflecting on design, the meaning of products, and design and culture.

Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, Analog days: The invention and impact of the Moog synthesizer, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univeristy Press, 2002. “Musical instrument design is one of the most sophisticated and specialized technologies that we humans have developed [Robert Moog, p. v].” Despite its subtitle this book covers much more than the history of the Moog. It is both a cultural history of the period during which analog synthesizers changed music and the music industry and a case study in design. A version of a longer review of it that I wrote for Metascience is available.

Herbert A. Simon, The sciences of the artificial, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996 (3rd edition). Natural science provides us with ways of understanding the biological and physical worlds, but so much of what interests us is of our own making. First published in 1969, this book introduces ways of thinking about sciences of the artificial. These in turn permit the study of that which we have created and laid on top of the natural. Economics, the psychology of thinking, learning, design, social planning, and complexity are all examined. Arguing that "in large part, the proper study of mankind is the science of design," Simon sets out a program in design to complement the natural science curriculum.


Krome Barratt, Logic & design in art, science & mathematics, New York: Design Books, 1980. A listing of some of the chapter titles will give a sense of the interest this work will have for imagists: same and similar, rhythm, progressions and growth, dynamic and harmonic series, ratio, proportion, scale, simple oscillatory structures, the moving point, lines and edges, a geometry of curves, dramatization. The chapters propose principles related to the concepts organized around the themes. Though the principles are not always obvious or convincingly established, the work is full of stimulating ideas, many of them useful in creating interesting visual images.

John Bowers, Introduction to two-dimensional design: Understanding form and function, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. This is a quick read for a reader who wants a general introduction to some basic issues in color, form and meaning in two-dimensional design. With only 123 heavily illustrated pages, it cannot go into depth on any of its many topics, but it does provide references to some very good works. The reader is exposed to Gestalt theory (closure, continuance, proximity, and similarity), problem solving (learn conditions, identify and define the problem, generate ideas and select solutions, implement solution and evaluate result), ways of defining visual elements (dot, line, plane, voume), visual characteristics (size, shape, texture, color), and visual interactions (position, direction, space), color, composition and more. It's price is a bit steep, but you should be able to find it in a good library.

Robert Dixon, Mathographics, New York: Dover Publications, 1991 (originally published by Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987). This book presents the math and related details for drawing polygons, curves, spirals, daisies, waves, and other basic items. It illustrates with lots of drawings that can be easily implemented with simple computer programs. At times, it is frustrating that the techniques used to produce a particular drawing are not more specifically revealed. You get the feeling that you are using one of those high school texts that insist on giving answers only to the odd-numbered problems or that announces that a particularly interesting derivation is "left as an exercise to the reader." Still, it is a very good starting point for someone who wants a quick, practical introduction to mathematically-based construction of simple objects.

Maitland Graves, The art of color and design, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1951. In part one of this work, Graves defines seven elements of design (line, direction, shape, size, texture, value, and color). In part two, he introduces eight principles (repetition, alternation, harmony, gradation, contrast, dominance, unity, and balance) and shows how the elements are related according to these principles. Finally, in part three, he analyzes the elements of design. What makes this work of particular interest to us is its vision. The book ends with discussions of the psychology of color, color hearing, color music, and abstract films. The latter section includes brief reference to the work or Leopold Survage, Viking Egling, Len Lye, and Oscar Fischinger, among others.

Scott McCloud, Understanding comics: The invisible art, New York: Harper Perennial, 1994. My first encounter with this book was when an Apple software engineer told me that it was the best book he had read on user-interface design. Cartooning is, of course, a sequential graphic art. Consequently, many of the author's observations are applicable to lumia. Of particular interest are the chapters "Living in Line," which explores the relationship between expressive style and emotion, and "A Word About Color."

Clifford A. Pickover [Ed.], The pattern book: Fractals, art, and nature, Singapore: World Scientific, 1995. Pickover 's many books are filled with techniques, ideas, algorithms, and code that will fuel the imaginations and toolkits of imagists for a very long time. This book is a particularly dense collection of patterns, most of them mathematical and easily computed, that were submitted from people working in a broad variety of disciplines. It is a wonderful source book to which I return again and again.

Peter S. Stevens, Handbook of regular patterns: An introduction to symmetry in two dimensions, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984. The basic operations of symmetry are introduced and then used to create point groups, the seven line groups, and the seventeen plane groups. Illustrations come from textiles, mosaics, building plans, nature, and M. C. Escher's prints and drawings.

Wucius Wong, Principles of two-dimensional design, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1972. This book deals with two-dimensional design at an abstract level. It's chapters on form, repetition, structure, similarity, gradtion, radiation, anomaly, contrast, concentration, texture and space provide lots of illustrations and numerous suggestions for achieving particular effects.

Wucius Wong, Principles of two-dimensional form, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988. After describing the aspects of form and how to design a form, the author applies the concepts from his earlier books to the creation of representational forms.

Wucius Wong, Principles of form and design, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993. This book works nicely as a source book with lots of simple images illustrating related sets of ideas. It doesn't provide as much help in realizing the images as some of the other books, though.


Josef Albers, Interaction of color, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975 (originally published in 1963 by Yale University). I turn to this little book over and over again. In it, Albers describes a hands-on program of discovery that he used to instruct art students in the mysterious ways of color. His cautious attitudes about reliance on frameworks, rules-of-thumb, and color theories serve to balance ideas found in other works identified here. At the same time, his respect for experiential learning and the clarity with which he describes exercises that lead to insight makes this an especially useful book for developing one's own frameworks. He makes many fascinating observations on the basis of his experiences training artists. One that I found particularly intriguing was this: "If one is not able to distinguish the difference between a higher tone and a lower tone, one probably should not make music. If a parallel conclusion were to be applied to color, almost everyone would prove incompetent for its proper use. Very few are able to distinguish higher and lower light intensity between different hues (p. 12)."

David Batchelor, Chromophobia, London: Reaktion Books, 2000. This extended essay is a fascinating examination of our cultural attitudes about color. From Aristotle and Plato, for whom it was a mere drug, through Kant for whom it was at best an aggreeable way to add charm to a work of art, color has occupied a place secondary to form. A mere cosmetic, since ancient times it has occupied a place subservient to drawing; disegno versus colore: drawing versus colouring-in. Even among chromophiles, color has been seen as dangerous, associated with “a loss of consciousness, a kind of blindness.” To make sense of changes taking place in recent decades, the author looks to the writings of Baudelaire, Melville, Huxley, Wittgenstein and others, the architecture of LeCorusier, and films such as the Wizard of Oz and Pleasantville. In the digitalization of colour represented by the colour chart (as opposed to its more analogical representation, the color circle), Batchelor sees a new age for color. “The colour chart divorces colour from conventional colour theory and turns every colour into a readymade. It promises autonomy for colour; in fact, it offers three distinct but related types of autonomy: that of each colour from every other colour, that of colour from the dictates of colour theory and that of colour from the register of representation (p. 105).”

Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, Basic color terms: Their universality and evolution, Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1969. Berlin and Kay's research provides support for the hypothesis that a relatively small set of patterns explain the way in which basic color terms are organized in all human languages. If the language has only two color terms they will invariably be terms for white and black. Of 98 languages they examined, 9 were like this. If they have three basic color terms the additional one is always a name for red. There were 21 such languages. If there are four terms, the fourth will be either green or yellow. When there is a fifth term, it is always the other of those two. The sixth term is always a term meaning blue and the seventh a term meaning brown. Languages with eight to eleven terms will add terms for purple, pink, orange, and grey.

Faber Birren, Principles of color, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1987 (originally 1969). This small book uses the history of color circles, M. E. Chevreul's pioneering work on color harmony and contrast, and Birren's own color triangle to identify principles that can be used to meet emerging demands for color. Birren concludes that "Art in frames and art on pedestals is giving way to art that is more a part of life. There is now sculpture on the grand scale. There is painting and decoration that envelops space. There is an art of mobile color, Lumia, dramatic and emotional effects with color that involve the manipulation of lights, shadows, flowing abstract forms (p.78)." It is to support those demands that he has written this work.

Faber Birren, Color & human response, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1978. This book examines the effects of color on viewers. It provides summaries of most of the theories of color combination that have been proposed, as well as a detailed discussion of personal color preference.

Faber Birren, Color perception in art, New York: Van Nosrand Reinhold, 1976. This book represents one of the most comprehensive and systematic collections of principles regarding color use yet compiled. Birren surveys art history, physics, physiological optics, and neural psychology to articulate principles of color use. He describes and illustrates how to use color choice, saturation, contrast, and constancy to achieve luster, iridescence, transparency, and illumination effects. It is a very practical work.

Faber Birren, Color psychology and color therapy, University Books, 1950. Birren learns from everyone. His books survey the ancient thinkers, the mystics, psychologists, physicists, artists, and others to summarize what is known about biological, visual, emotional, aesthetic, and psychic responses to color. Color research has been necessarily eclectic, as color theories have been found deficient. Birren brings together many of the results of the research, to provide some guidance about what effects are likely to result from various color choices and combinations. Of particular interest to imagists will be the chapter on associations and analogies in which Birren discusses color and sounds.

John Gage, Color and culture: Practice and meaning from antiquity to abstraction, Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1993. This is a sweeping survey of the theories of color, each placed in its historical context. The chapters on "The sound of color" and "Colour withouth theory: The role of abstraction" are likely to be of particular interest to lumianists and others using this list.

John Gage, Color and meaning: Art, science and symbolism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. This book covers some of the same territory as Gage surveyed in Color and culture, but this time taking a more problem or theme oriented approach. I find this work the more useful of the two on a day in-day out basis. It provides a great deal of insight about particular colors and about relationships of sound and color, for example.

W. Garner, “The relationship between colour and music,” Leonardo, 11 (1978), 325-326. Is it possible to 'translate' an octave of sound into an octave of light? Garner considers the question and answers, no. A note produces harmonics; a color does not. The identities of notes in a chord are maintained; those in blended colors are not. Differences between various intervals in music are recognized as the same; in color mappings they are not. Notes of a chord are recognized simultaneously in the same place; in a color chord they must be placed separately. Notes are about time; hues are about space.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of colours, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970 (originally published in 1840 by London: John Murray). In a 1969 introduction to Goethe's classic work, Deane Judd suggests that the modern reader might benefit from reading the work in any of three ways. It can be read for his conjectures regarding the connections between color and philosophical ideas of his day. It can be read for the detail and accuracy of its observations. Though most of Goethe's explanations have been judged incorrect, his observations are accurately reported. Finally, it can prepare its reader for unprejudiced consideration of new solutions to the problems that color poses. In following its logic, your thoughts become so divorced from the wavelength theory, that you begin to think about color theory without the usual prejudices, old or new.

C. L. Hardin and Luisa Maffi [Eds.], Color categories in thought and language, Cambridge University Press, 1997. In this book visual psychologists, anthropologists and linguists relate research related to the Berlin and Kay's color naming theory. In addition to updating the research on color naming the book brings together some very stimulating research on the psychophysics, neuropsychology, and physiology of color.

Johannes Itten, The art of color: The subjective experience and objective rationale of color, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1973 (originally published in 1961). When I first began to explore various approaches to color and asked artists about a theory of color, the response was almost always the same. "Have you seen the works of Johannes Itten?" If there is a normative theory of color that has affected contemporary artists, this is where you will find it.

Thomas Jacobsen, Kandinsky’s color-form correspondence and the Bauhaus colors: An empirical view, Leonardo, 37 (2004), 135-136. Kandinsky suspected that there was a close, perhaps even intrinsic, correspondence between the most basic forms and the basic colors. Jacobsen revisited a survey that Kandinsky administered and found that for current student subjects, Kandinsky’s assignment were the least preferred. He suggests that preferences are due to a multitude of factors and the the prominence of the Bauhaus colors was idiosyncratic.

Patricia Sloane, The visual nature of color, New York: Design Press, 1989. If you read only one book on color, this should be it. Drawing on empirical results, centuries of philosophical discourse, and her own perceptive analytic capabilities, Sloane challenges many of the most treasured and oft-repeated ideas that inform most discussions of color. Of additive and subtractive color theories she wonders "how so ill-conceived an idea survived for so long." Having examined a variety of color wheels to understand what they tell us about color complementarity she concludes that "the systems are all equally incorrect." Her objective, though, seems not so much to demonstrate what is wrong with our thinking on these subjects as to move us to consider them anew. As she argues in her introduction, "In this post-humanist age, we need to become seriously interested in understanding what we see, an endeavor more noble, necessary, and interesting than understanding who we are." More than any other, this book will change how you read every other book in this section. The full text of the book is available as a pdf file on the Classic Books page.

Katherine Lubar, Color intervals: Applying concepts of musical consonance and dissonance to color, Leonardo, 37 (2004), 127-132. The author describes a personal exploration in which she attempted to bring together her knowledge of music theory and color theory. Using Itten’s color wheel as the basis she created color intevals defined by analogy to the intervals found in tonal music. She then examined the color intervals for their similarity to the effects found in the corresponding musical intervals (consonance or dissonance). Among the most important of Lubar’s observations are that “tonal value plays an important role in the interpretation of the intervals between color (p. 129)” and that “the closer an interval gets to the tritone [complementary color], the more interestingly/harmoniously it works as a color combination (p. 130).” The latter is, of course, a common observation of color theorists, but it is reassuring to see it emerge among the few observations the author is willing designate a “principle.” Katherine Lubar’s web site, contains images of many of her paintings as well as a version of the article.

Wucius Wong, Principles of color design, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987. This book has two things to recommend it. The section on design principles provides a concise presentation of some useful strategies for dealing with such things as gravity, contrast, rhythm, and center of interest. The color material gives a good feel for some of the principal effects of varying each of the three dimensions of color, and some strategies for developing color schemes.

Film, Multimedia & Music

Nicholas Cook, Analysing musical multimedia, Oxford University Press, 1998. The book develops a musicilogy-based approach to analysing multimedia, which the author then applies to a Madonna video, a section of Fantasia and an operatic sequence from Godard’s film, Aria. Starting from the experience of synaesthesia, the author concludes that, although the phenomenon provides some hints about what multimedia is, it is more important in providing an illuminating model of what multimedia is not. In subsequent chapters a more general model of multimedia—one based on several different kinds of relationships—is illustrated using commercials, album cover art, and film sequences. In this model meaning is constructed; it is emergent, contextual, performative. Cook draws on critical film and music theory as well as empirical research in making his arguments. The ideas in this work are expansive regarding the ways in which narrative, visuals and music can interact to create meaning. The book should help readers think concretely about the many possibilities that come into play when music meets with other media. And it provides a framework for making sense of what happens when they do.

Nicholas Cook, Music: A very short introduction, Oxford University Press, 1998. How is it that music acts as an agent of meaning? Why is it that when we listen to music, we seem to “leave the world of people and things and enter one of thought and feeling (p. 1)”? Some of the ideas Cook explores while answering those questions include how our images of great composers align with historical analyses of how Mozart and Beethoven actually worked, how notation has limited and defined musical expression, the role of roles in the orchestra, as well as the roles that the academy and gender play in our appreciation of music.

Steven R. Holtzman, Digital mantras: The languages of abstract and virtual worlds, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994. The range of response to this book has one of the highest variances I have ever seen. Some read it as the most important synthesis of technology and culture in recent years; others as an individualistic narrative of vaguely related "topics of interest." I was caught up in it as a book of appreciations. It contains appreciations of the history of western music, of development of language, of Schoenberg, Kandinsky, Boulez, Chomsky, and more. It places generative grammars in a context for those to whom they are new. It surveys some of the most interesting developments in digital art and music, and it does not shrink from examining such large issues as the sources of a digital aesthetic, the meaning of beauty, or where deep structure might be found. While I was not always comfortable that Holzman's take on these things was right or even useful, reading his thoughts sent me to related works that were.

Ana Sacerdote de Guthmann, “Kinteic art: Animation of color for cinema film,” in Frank J. Malina [ed.], Kinetic art, Theory and practice , New York: Dover Publication, 1974, 8-10. An approach to animation is described. The starting point is what the author refers to as a basic chromatic unit or syllable. This consists of a sequence of geometric compositions whose shapes, positions, and color shades are varied. A film consisting of three parts is described. In the course of describing the film's sequences the author notes that:

  • the more one subdivides the area the richer one can make the experience of watching transitions from one shade to another
  • the fact that one part of the composition changes while another portion  remains static adds interest to the experience
  • a shape in motion, changing both in size and shade, can produce striking  effects, though careful control of duration is required
  • sequences should be of different lengths

The author makes suggestions about other things that could be attempted.

Gene Youngblood, Expanded cinema, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970. In this detailed examination, Youngblood captured more than how cinema was changing in the 60s. The book is a kaleidoscope of ideas relating synaestheia, post-modernism, cybernetics, ecological awareness, and aesthetics to film, television, holography, and other emerging entertainment environments. Much of the narrative remains fresh. There are substantial sections on the work of Jordan Belson, the Whitneys, Stan VanDerBeek, and others. As history, it does more than capture the details of its time; its style and flavor make it an artifact of that time as well. And, the introduction by Bucky Fuller is speculative even by Fuller standards. A full-text version of Expanded Cinema is available online at the Art and Science Laboratory site.


H. Von Helmholtz, Treatise on Physiological Optics, [James P. C. Southall, ed.], New York: Dover books, 1962 (translation of third edition published in German 1910).

Donald D. Hoffman, Visual intelligence: How we create what we see, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. A cognitive and computer scientist summarizes the science related to visual perception by describing the rules that we use to construct visual scenes. As suggested by the title, the book takes the view that we create our visual experiences, including the various aspects of form, color and even motion. Filled with examples, it is the most readable and entertaining introduction I have encountered to the empirical literature on vision. It also identifies many limits to our current knowledge, suggesting lots of interesting areas for research.

Margaret Livingstone, Vision and art: The biology of seeing, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002. This is both the most entertaining and thorough of the books on vision I have encountered. Its discussions of the evolutionary and physiological foundations for the perception of color, dimensionality, and motion are linked to our experience of art, so it should be of interest to many of you. Livingstone addresses one of the great debates in color theory by arguing that both the trichromatic and the opponent-color (originally suggested by Goethe in 1810) processes are correct. She illustrates how repetitive patterns can create the illusion of depth and explains why impressionist paintings seem to shimmer. She even explains the Mona Lisa’s smile. I carried this book around with me for days on a family vacation, cajoling everyone around to look at the many suprising effects its illustrations provide and to share in the joy of the many puzzles its author has solved.

Ian Stewart, Nature’s numbers: The unreal reality of mathematics, New York: Basic Books, 1995. This book provides a vision. Indeed, it begins and ends with narratives that describe Stewart's dreams. In the preface he dreams first of a virtual reality machine, a machine that will make visible the imaginings of mathematicians much as a musical performance transforms the score of a composer into something our senses can enjoy. And near the end of his book, his dreams soar in still a loftier direction, to the creation of a new mathematics. He imagines a mathematics that possesses intellectual rigor while at the same time permitting for more conceptual flexibility than our current restrictive numerical schemes. He calls this second dream "morphomatics", an effective mathematical theory of form. This book represents the kind of inspired thinking that might one day link the image world artists are creating with that of scientists, engineers, and managers.

Copyright 1998–2007 Fred Collopy. This document is located at