Skip to main content
Shapes of Imagination: Calculating in Coleridge's Magical Realm

Shapes of Imagination: Calculating in Coleridge's Magical Realm

Current price: $45.00
Publication Date: November 15th, 2022
The MIT Press
The MIT Press Bookstore
3 on hand, as of Feb 23 6:03pm
On Our Shelves Now


Visual calculating in shape grammars aligns with art and design, bridging the gap between seeing (Coleridge's “imagination”) and combinatoric play (Coleridge's “fancy”).

In Shapes of Imagination, George Stiny runs visual calculating in shape grammars through art and design—incorporating Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetic imagination and Oscar Wilde's corollary to see things as they aren't. Many assume that calculating limits art and design to suit computers, but shape grammars rely on seeing to prove otherwise. Rules that change what they see extend calculating to overtake what computers can do, in logic and with data and learning. Shape grammars bridge the divide between seeing (Coleridge's “imagination, or esemplastic power”) and combinatoric play (Coleridge's “fancy”).

Stiny shows that calculating without seeing excludes art and design. Seeing is key for calculating to augment creative activity with aesthetic insight and value. Shape grammars go by appearances, in a full-fledged aesthetic enterprise for the inconstant eye; they answer the question of what calculating would be like if Turing and von Neumann were artists instead of logicians. Art and design are calculating in all their splendid detail.

About the Author

George Stiny is Professor of Design and Computation at MIT. He first used shape grammars for painting and sculpture and is the author of Pictorial and Formal Aspects of Shape and Shape Grammars; Algorithmic Aesthetics: Computer Models for Criticism and Design in the Arts (with James Gips); and Shape: Talking about Seeing and Doing (MIT Press).