The Course of Empire: Digital Exploration

The Course of Empire: Digital Exploration



The subject matter is Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire series consisting of 5 oil paintings created in 1833-36. The series displays the rise and fall of civilization through landscape painting. The goal for Zach was to uncover the complexities and hidden genius behind these paintings and imbue them into a digital artifact that allows us to see them in a new way, creating new dialogue whether individually or collectively.

MFA Graduate

Zach Winegardner

Project Description

The process consisted of exploration, experimentation, and making.

Painting of field by thomas cole
Painting of fields by thomas cole

Initially beginnging with curiosities, Zach utilized a building a tool that allows him to investigate different forms of perceived motion in Cole's paintings, such as the golden ratio.

Painting of city by thomas cole
Painting of city in battle by thomas cole

From there, he participated in a process of critical making and responded by creating artifacts that are embodiments of his discoveries.

Zach took information found during his exploration and created a tool to further his process. 

Thomas Cole painting sectional breakdown
Visual breakdown

"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."  - Zach W.

Ultimately, he constructed a video that features the extracted information in visual ways. This includes multiplane animation effects, graphical overlays, and superimposed segments of images to compare. The video-link [below] plays in cycles of all 5 paintings, each cycle introducing more complexity.

Link to Digital Exploration Video:

Personal Website:

Completed in 2018.

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