Vision in Art and Neuroscience Fall 2023 
9.72 (UG)
9.720 (G)
Tues & Thurs 3-5 pm in 10-150 (MIT Museum Studio)
contact: visualstudies AT mit.edu
The constructive nature of perception is at work in the gap between the observer and the outside – there, the world of experience is generated. From limited and noisy data incoming through the senses, our brains construct the rich world we perceive. Creating visual art throws that world of experience back to the outside, and in it we find reflected some mechanisms of the constructive process of vision. As such, we can find examples in art which allow us to “perceive perception.” Through readings, lecture, discussion, and project-based work, this course explore the neural and computational mechanisms of vision and their parallel manifestations in visual art. Working together, we will follow recipes for seeing to translate different levels of the visual processing hierarchy into the domain of experience, using the power of simple materials to foreground direct visual perception. The course is divided into one seminar-style lecture and one session of studio instruction per week. Each student will have access to studio materials and equipment for creating and documenting visual experiences. Students will be expected to prepare simple captures of work and work processes to share with the class as needed and to contribute to the exhibition content that will have physical and online aspects. A final project and exhibition of student work will replace a final exam. 
Fall 2023 Syllabus (last updated 11.6.2022)
Course Structure
The course consists of one two-hour seminar (Tuesday) and one two-hour studio workshop (Thursday) per week. Seminars will include slide talks, demonstrations, video documents, etc. by the team as well as invited guests. Carefully chosen readings and student presentations will fuel discussions. In previous years, workshop hours during the first weeks of class were spent in a dark room where students were guided through experiments visualizing the fundamental interactions of light and vision. As the semester progresses, studio sessions will serve preparation of final projects for exhibition. The seminar will be divided into six modules that build, one upon the next, to introduce principles of vision neuroscience and their parallels in the creation of visual art. Toward the end of the semester, we will design, install and open a public exhibition of projects in the Compton Gallery.
Online Catalogues of Past Work 
See TOTAL INTERNAL REFLECTION, a virtual exhibition of work from our Fall 2020 course offering, online now! 
Perceiving Perception (December 2017 - February 2018), MIT Museum Studio Compton Gallery
Web Catalog 
Dessert of the Real (December 2018 - May 2019), MIT Museum Studio Compton Gallery 
Instruments of Vision (December 2019 - May 2020), MIT Museum Studio Compton Gallery 
Emissive (December 2021 - fall 2022), MIT Museum Studio Compton Gallery 
Course Modules
Module 1 The origins of structure in perception and art
                 Seminar 1 Slides  
                 Multiple Worlds (Koenderink 2012)
                 Bayesian Models of Object Perception (Kersten and Yuille 2003)                 


Module 2 Early visual processing  
                 Optional, extra resources: 
Module 2 Slides
                 Selections from Suprematism Manifesto (Malevich 1924)
                          White Manifesto (Fontana 1946)
                          Lumia: Thomas Wilfred and the Art of Light (2017)
                          Vision in Motion (Moholy-Nagy 1947)
                          Language of Vision (Kepes 1951)
                          On the Purity of Light (Piene 1958) from Zero, MIT Press
                          My Position in the Battle Between Line and Color (Klein 1958)
                         Perceptual Geometry 
Module 3 Binocular vision, depth, and motion perception 
                 Optional, extra readings: 
                 Selection from James Turrell: A Retrospective (Holzherr 2013)
Module 4 Color and Light
Module 5 Recognition, compositionality, and perceptual primitives 
Module 6  ​Art and associative recall


Pawan Sinha
Pawan Sinha is a professor of vision and computational neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He received his undergraduate degree in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi and his Masters and doctoral degrees from the Department of Computer Science at MIT. Using a combination of experimental and computational modeling techniques, research in Pawan’s laboratory focuses on understanding how the human brain learns to recognize objects through visual experience and how objects are encoded in memory. The lab's experimental work on these issues involves studying healthy individuals and also those with neurological disorders such as autism. A key initiative of the lab is Project Prakash; this effort seeks to accomplish the twin goals of providing treatment to children with disabilities and also understanding mechanisms of learning and plasticity in the brain.
contact: psinha AT mit.edu 
Seth Riskin 
Seth Riskin runs the MIT Museum Studio and Compton Gallery, a space for interdisciplinary projects and experimental exhibitions. He also oversees the Holography and Spatial Imaging area at the MIT Museum. A light artist who conducts humanistic research of light across disciplines and cultures, Seth brings to the course hands-on methods for controlling light and shaping the visual perception of form, space and time, as well as expertise in the values and meanings of light and how they contribute to what we see.
contact: riskin AT mit.edu 
Sarah Schwettmann 
Sarah Schwettmann is a computational neuroscientist interested in creativity underlying the human relationship to world: from the brain’s fundamentally constructive role in sensory perception to the explicit creation of experiential worlds in art. She is a research scientist with the Vision group in MIT CSAIL and MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. She received her PhD from MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, where she was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Previously, Sarah was also a member of the Eagleman Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine and the Shouval Lab for Theoretical Neuroscience at UT Health Science Center Houston. In the arts, Sarah uses her background in computation to create installations that explore structure in human cognition and the nature of intelligence. Her work has been exhibited at FiftyThree in New York and at OPEN Gallery in Boston. Sarah received BAs in Computational and Applied Mathematics and Cognitive Science from Rice University, where she was a Trustee Distinguished Scholar, Century Scholar, and taught courses on Engineering Computation and Women Leaders in STEM.
contact: schwett AT mit.edu