Experts say science advances art

Grace Dickens

The bright red sculpture made of steel beams adorning the front lawn of the engineering buildings sits perched like a ballerina in the eyes of Linda Henderson, professor of art history and specialist in interdisciplinary modern art. This sculpture, called “Clock Knot” by Mark di Suvero was created with a giant crane and meticulous stacking and is just one way technological and scientific advancements have transformed the art world, Henderson said.

This interaction between art and scientific findings isn’t new, said Henderson. Technological discoveries like the X-Ray have intrigued artists throughout the 20th century, Henderson said. She added that artists are very interested in the world around them, which naturally leads to an interest in science.

“It’s artists who respond quite quickly to … new scientific discoveries and ideas,” Henderson said. “As ideas change, artists tend to be very interested in those ideas.”

Assistant chemistry professor Emily Que, whose team took first place at the recent “Visualizing Science 2018: Beauty and Inspiration in College Research” competition, said the winning image was taken while viewing immune cells in animals during cancer therapy. Though the vision used to be black and white, Que said she altered the image based on what she found visually appealing.

“It’s really important to be able to make science relatable to the general public so that hopefully, us research scientists can have influence on a certain opinion on certain things,” Que said. “It’s important to bridge the barrier between those that understand the science and those that don’t.”

Henderson added that contests like Visualizing Science make students aware of the value of color and aesthetic choices. She added that they can help students learn how to make their images most effective and communicate best, alerting students to the importance of the visual aspects of their work.

“There are lots of choices to be made when you are visualizing data, and I think that’s one of the places that art definitely has an impact on scientists,” Henderson said. “Scientists talk a lot about beauty, but artists in the 20th or 21st century don’t really talk much about beauty. What drives them is the idea of discovery, rethinking ideas and raising important questions in their art.”

One developing field that is piquing the interests of artists is biology, Henderson said. Bogdan Perzyński, studio art professor, is one such artist interested in interdisciplinary studies. One of his most recent works titled “Table” (2018)is modeled after the periodic table.

“When I read about science, I am trying to make sense out of that,” Perzyński said. “Recently I’ve been exploring body electricity and its relationship to chemistry. There is chemistry in our bodies … the base for electricity to flow through the central nervous system are chemical changes. That’s very fascinating to me, and I think I’m going to work for the next few years on something related to that.”

In spite of this, Perzyński said he doesn’t integrate science and art. The field of science is large and fragmented, with many schools of thought and different branches, he said. He added that critical and theoretical thinking as well as art history interested him in his current pursuits.

“I don’t claim I integrate art and science. That’d be way too big,” Perzyński said. “I think the concept of science reminds me of the way we thought about science 100 years ago, when we thought about science as one and objective. It’s kind of a figure of speech to say art helps science. But, people with visualization skills can help science to visualize the data.”