Monday 13 December 2010

What is Science-Art?

With my weekly Scumble posts, the Science-Artists Feed and upcoming session at ScienceOnline11 with John Hawks and David Orr, I've been talking a lot about Science Art ( aka: sciart, science-based art, etc).

What is Science Art?

It's always tough when you're in the middle of a burgeoning artistic movement to label it, and even the various art manifestos that pepper art history are unsatisfying to later palates.

That said, I find there's often confusion when talking about art between the large umbrella term "ART" and the more specific world of what we mean when we refer to Fine Art.  Scientific Illustration is not Fine Art; they're both different branches under the Art phylogenetic tree, if you'll permit the metaphor.

There can be some horizontal genetic transfers; images that make the leap between different types of art. Most commonly this happens with time, such as the scientific illustrations of Audobon appearing in fine art history texts as a bit of a nod to the influence scientific illustration can have in fine art.

Here's my attempt to label what Science-Art is. Most of this is cribbed from my need for definitions that I used for ScienceOnline09.

My bias is showing: many examples are biology related.  I've tried to limit each category here to a few examples.  You can see I've also largely left out photography and cartoons and comics, though arguably (and I'm prepared to argue!) many examples of those may deserve to be included here.

5 types of Science Art:

1. Scientific Illustration - Examples: Carl BuellAlbrecht Durer, many artists’ work at the Guild of Natural Scientific Illustrators.

2. Science Fine Art & Design - Examples: Felice FrankelMarc Quinn, Paul WaldeWim Delvoye.

3. Art using scientific subjects as a springboard - Examples: Dali’s Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus),  Archimboldo, Lynn Fellman, myself.

4. Art inspired and made by scientific technique - Examples: op art & trompe l’oeilMan RayDIY Biohackers Klari Reis.

5. Speculative science art & science fiction - Examples: Nemo RamjetSpeculative Dinosaur Projectsome Dougal Dixon booksWayne Barlowe.

Are there more categories?  Where would you place some of your favourite science-artists?
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Sean Craven said...

I have a hard time figuring out exactly where I stand in this. I nodded in recognition any number of times.

I think of what I do as fine art inspired by science. I try to adhere as closely as possible to accepted scientific beliefs in some cases, and respond visually to images created by science in others.

I'm trying to teach myself scientific illustration, but find it more important to maintain a certain level of technical artistic skill, in terms of composition, color, technique, and so on.

There is a struggle, and since I'm not working with scientists who can correct me, art comes out in charge despite my best efforts.

davor said...

There's some beautiful stuff on the other side of those links! Especially love Paul Walde's "Geology of Space" series.

A whole 'nother can of worms would be film and video! In fact, there's a Science Friday segment from last week covering Isabella Rossellini's animal mating films. Cool stuff!

Bora Zivkovic said...

While movies, video, animations and gaming are "moving", if we want to remain with "still images" for the purposes of this exercise, I would also add: nature photography, data visualization, comics/cartoons, and science-inspired architecture. What do you think?

Glendon Mellow said...

Sean; personally I would place most of your work somewhere between # 2 and 3. It's quite fine artsy, and you push things into an arena where they evoke, not instruct most of the time.

Glad you like the links, David! I met Paul Walde at SciBarCamp here in Toronto in 2009. Very sharp and interesting guy.

Film and video! Music! Architecture! I like what coturnix suggests, and sticking to still images and objects, especially for the sake of a 1 hour session with three facilitators and a vocal audience.

Is data visualization very different from scientific illustration? I agree that it is. Nice piece by Razib Khan at Gene Expression on the influence of data viz.

Architecture is interesting, especially at the point where an art installation becomes functional structure. I'm thinking like Spiral Jetty.

davor said...

I also agree with the still images/ objects focus. Incorporating more would get out of control! But still good food for thought.

Brian George said...

I was happy to wake up to this blog post this morning. I've been giving this topic lots of thought since I have decided to use my powers for good (science/art).
I think your list is a fair summary, but could certainly be added to (but as David Orr says 'Incorporating more would get out of control!').
I'm happy to see that you listed Dali's 'Hypercubus', as that painting had a MONSTEROUS influence on me when I was a teen. Recently, when my wife and I were walking down a corridor at the Metropolitan here in NYC, I came face to face with 'Hypercubus' for the first time. I nearly fell over! I had long ago forgotten that it was in the Met's collection, but, as far I could recall, had not been on display since I had known of it. It is gorgeously painted and has always snagged my curiosity.

For myself, I have only recently come to the conclusion that I wanted to combine art and science in a direct way. I have fumbled a bit in deciding on how deliberate I want to be. Do I wish to use art as a springboard as you have listed in #3? That's where I ended up at first. However, the activist part of my brain doesn't seem to let me stop there. This might be part of #2 on your list, but I'm trying to figure out a way to use art to directly promote science and critical thinking. For example, a little over a year ago, my wife and I curated and participated in an exhibition where we chose artists to make work based on astronomer Phil Plait's book 'Death from the Skies!'We wanted to mount an exhibition and event that directly engaged the public and used art to illustrate the science behind, in this case, the end of the world/Universe. And based on the conversations I had at the opening an during gallery hours, I think we did a pretty good job. 2012 myths were only brought up jokingly.I spoke with many folks about the concepts behind the art (we also had explanatory panels for each artwork).
I think this is the road I'm heading down, mainly, but not to the exclusion of other forms of expression. I mean, I spent this weekend working on a drawing for my step-brother of a portrait of a friend of his with a dinosaur body, measuring tree rings.
Go figure.

Marco Meredith said...

I Think Id fall into No.5, Wayne Barlowe pretty much nails it for me. after i saw his work i realised speculative bio design can be taken seriously.


Glendon Mellow said...

Holy Monkey Brian! I would love to see some of the images from the Plait-inspired exhibit. Have you posted them online?

And please show off the portrait of your step-brother when its done - pretty please? Science-inspired portraits are fascinating.

Merco, I heartily agree your work is in the same camp as Barlowe's. There's a huge amount of science and plausibility demanded by a lot of concept art, even when it is for a fantasy project.

I often wonder if, in a hundred years time, art historians will look back on movie and game concept art as the important art of this era, and not the current fine art world. Much the same as we now largely ignore the academic art and focus on the Impressionists of a century ago.

Brian George said...

Glendon, here is a link to Phil's post about it:

There's also a musical piece, which is included on my blog (along with a post on how the idea cam about and more):

And since you asked, I'll post the portrait of my step-brother's friend (it's a gift from him to his friend for writing a letter of recommendation) as soon as I'm finished, probably tonight I hope!

Glendon Mellow said...

That show looked amazing, Brian. Really well done, every piece. A lot of emotion and nature's-indifference there. Stunning stuff.

What a fantastic idea!

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