From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Arts and Sciences

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I just got my copy of “Global Change Biology”(vol 15, Nov).  I have it because I did an digital photo composite/painting for a friend’s journal article on climate change as a sort of thank you for putting us up in Oxford.  Seeing Oxford with the professors is a wonderful thing- the places professors there can go, and the traditional honors (like sitting at high table) are well worth exploring.  Anyway, this particular illustration ended up on the cover, and they sent me the journal in the mail.

I’ve done several illustrations for scientific studies in the past.  It was one part of supporting my art through having many shifting jobs which I could do on my own schedule.  I’ve found I also enjoy being some tangential part of the scientific pursuits of my friends.  Biology was always one of my favorite and most familiar subjects in school.

I wish there were more collaboration between the arts and sciences.  At one point they were very closely linked indeed.  Scientific papers (such as Galileo’s) were often presented in play or story form, complete with characters, after the fashion of the Socratic dialogues.  Leonardo da Vinci was also no slouch when it came to sciences.

Today however, I find that as much as we all admire such Renaissance Men (I have not yet heard a person described as a Renaissance Woman) on the rare occasion that one can demonstrate clear talent in both spheres, one is generally viewed as a sideline or hobby.   Of course there are competitive obstacles that Leonardo and Galileo never dreamed of these days.  One can’t just publish an independent study and be read or taken seriously.  You need the credentials, the association of a major institution of good reputation, etc. An identical paper or study would never see the light of day outside of the University system.

The same is true of art.  The very subjective nature of art since Dada makes judging quality distinctly difficult.  To paint beautifully, intensely, and realistically while breaking a little bit of stylistic ground is not enough.  The Renaissance painters had a much clearer set of standards by which they were judged.  Today one needs the track record of conceptual work, art school, and most importantly, shows and reviews.

And yet if one ran the gauntlet in both fields, got the PhD, got the major gallery shows, the NY Times reviews, I still get the feeling that the colleagues of each field would fail to acknowledge such a person as both and artist and a scientist.  They would instead be to each group a person who did the other calling as a hobby.

More than that, though I have many friends in the sciences, and I know that most of their colleagues would have no idea where to even find an artist of any stripe- even in a city like San Francisco.  If they wanted an illustration for an article they wouldn’t even know where to start.  Are we so far apart?  To be fair each discipline is similarly isolated from others- not just chemistry from physics, but even sociology from anthropology, or sub-sets within a discipline.

I think we are suffering from this lack of cross-communication and I hope that in this age of rapid and multifaceted communications we might start to bridge these gaps.  No if only we could bridge careers as well.

Written by Mary Corey March

November 11, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Posted in art, art philosophy, Essays

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