Monday 5 January 2009

Art & Science at ScienceOnline'09

The ScienceOnline'09 conference is coming up fast, so here are possible starting points I may use for the discussion I'll be moderating.

Do any of my regular or irregular readers have thoughts, suggestions or other examples? 5 types of science-related art

Here are some rough categories of science-related art for use as starting points. (My bias is showing: many are biology related.)

1. Scientific Illustration - Examples: Carl Buell, Michael Skrepnick, Albrecht Durer, James Gurney, many artists’ work at the Guild of Natural Scientific Illustrators.

2. Science Fine Art & Design - Examples: Felice Frankel, Wim Delvoye (Cloaca), Marc Quinn (blood portrait sculpture).

3. Art inspired by scientific subjects - Examples: Dali’s Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), my own work, Archimboldo.

4. Art inspired by scientific technique - Examples: op art, trompe l’oeil, Man Ray, Holbein

5. Speculative science art & science fiction - Examples: Nemo Ramjet, Speculative Dinosaur Project, some Dougal Dixon books, Wayne Barlowe.

Discussion questions:

-Is art parasitic on science? Does art ever inspire science or lead science to new areas of inquiry?

-Is art about science beneficial to the public or confusing issues in science?

-Art is often based on allegory and symbols, by their nature inaccurate; science often strives for accuracy and precision. Is it possible to make wholly accurate art?

-Should it be possible to inject more skepticism into the often ‘New Agey’ art world of artistic subjects? Technique often relies on innovative technologies, media and materials; should this be a starting point?

-How much scientific content is there in your local art gallery? Is science obviously intended as villain, savior, or inspiration?

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Anonymous said...

Is it possible to make wholly accurate art?

I reckon one function of scientific illustration is to remove detail. This is most obvious in viewing undergraduate manuals on dissection. When the purpose is to tease out anatomy, a picture of a cat's musculature is good, but an illustration highlighting the insertion and origin of muscles is more appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, Trilobite.
I think #1 is the definitive topic, with 2, 3, 4, being aspects of that.

I would be curious to know the range of 'acceptance' or 'tolerance' by the scientific community for artistic efforts.

Personally, when I look for an example of a bird or plant to identify, I seek a photo, not an artists rendering.

I wonder how much of that tendency influences the use of art in science.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is possible to make accurate scientific art as long as you have what it takes to do the art and do it well.

To change the conversation briefly, you've been tagged! If you want to know why I tagged you, click here to find out.

Anonymous said...

Art is expressing one's viewpoint and/or ideas about something. As such, it is told as an allegory. Otherwise, this kind of art can be used to help the audience visualize what they are reading or hearing. The point is, art can go either way with scientific subjects. Those few "scientists" who criticize it without inferring your purpose, are not really scientists. Science requires an open mind and imagination. That's what leads to answers most of the time and not fact. (Facts DO help though?) Also, to infer something, requires one to be able to think about it and draw conclusions from what's available. Paleontology does really well with this. As we make hypotheses based on what we have available: the fossils. Anyway, dude, good luck.

Andy said...

Is art parasitic on science? Does art ever inspire science or lead science to new areas of inquiry?

In fact, it was art that led me down a very productive avenue of my own research. I had seen depiction after depiction of horned dinosaurs fighting each other. . .(a rendering by Bill Parsons sticks out in my mind, in particular). . .and this got me thinking. What evidence actually was there for such behavior? Could Triceratops even physically lock horns? I used scaled sculptures of Triceratops skulls (artwork in their own right) to test this idea. . .the results were published in Palaeontologia Electronica. This in turn has led to other projects (all ultimately inspired by those artistic restorations). . .

And I should also say that the dynamic life restorations by Bob Bakker and Greg Paul had a huge influence on me in my formative years. . .many other young paleontologists would likely agree (even if many of us sometimes disagree with their science).

Glendon Mellow said...

Jason - an excellent point. Removal of actual detail changes the focus of what needs to be looked at. Brilliant point.

Accuracy becomes less important than utility: utilitarian art may be no less difficult than freely expressive art.

Glendon Mellow said...

Too true, Leslie.

I agree that when seeking a reference, I'm more likely to look for a photo. If I make a copy of a copy, and then someone copies mine, the small emphasis or mistakes in anatomy or structure are going to continue to become less accurate.

Like "broken telephone" or Star Wars Clonetroopers.

Glendon Mellow said...

Crazyharp81602 - I suppose then is it possible to make expressive yet wholly accurate art?

Or do the symbols and techniques involved in expressing a mood or emotion or desired reaction begin to crowd the clinical accuracy?

Raptor Lewis - I agree, it could go many ways which is why I tried to throw out a few categories of science-y art.

In my experience, scientists are not any more likely than the average Jane or Joe to dismiss art without mulling over its intended meaning.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thank you Andy!

It's something I have been wondering about for a while now. Call it the selfish artist in me, but can art aid science in a different way than utility; can it inspire!

You've provided the first example I am directly aware of. I suppose it may be rarer than the usefulness of scientific illustration, but it can happen.

Thank you for the link and insight.

Zach said...

Good points all around. I'll just add here that Wayne Douglas Barlowe has no equal. His skill exists in a realm wholly outside our own.

Glendon Mellow said...

I agree Zach that Wayne Barlowe is in an orbit of skill as distant as James Gurney and Alan Lee.

I plan on getting there one day!

Anonymous said...

The second half of this post (beneath the video) has some of my recent thoughts about science/art.

Glendon Mellow said...

I like the juxtaposition you suggest, Eva! One simpler while one gains in complexity, and how the situation can be viewed as being reversed in the past. Interesting idea.

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