Saturday, February 14, 2009

Compare and Contrast Art and Science

While we are off the ice, I'd like this blog to serve as a vehicle to comment on art/science collaboration. I'll begin with some of my (mis)perceptions:

My childhood impression was that scientists toil alone in a lab until the wee hours of night, striving for "ah hah!" moments. Solitude is something I've always been drawn toward, and a career in science seemed like my calling. But reality turned out to be far different. After 25 years as a biologist, I've learned that collaboration is the rule. I've now worked elbow-to-elbow with over 97 different scientists, and have published only two solo-authored papers; the others reflect joint efforts with these colleagues. I'm not complaining: the frantic exchange of ideas (and occasional cusses) inherent to healthy collaborative work is invigorating. And I've had enough moments of solitude doing experiments in the wee hours of night to touch my still point.

Until recently, I've harbored the impression that artists do indeed work alone in the studio, often 'till late at night, to ultimately produce a solo exhibition. (The exhibition being the art equivalent of science publications.) But is this really true? If so, it would clearly set art apart from science.

Since 2005, I've been collaborating with Claire Beynon on various art/science projects - mostly based on our joint work in Antarctica. In Albany, I've collaborated with artists Chris Moran and Elinor Mossop on related art/science ventures. This work has brought us in contact with Cynthia Pannucci and ASCI (Art & Science Collaborations, Inc.), and from these associations it has become clear that collaboration can be a powerful approach in art, just as it is in science. The Sound Still exhibition that Claire participated in a number of years ago is a good example.

An early Beynon-Bowser collaboration: DNA sequence of
Gromia and scanning electron micrograph of its gametes

Another childhood myth busted? I'd like to hear from other artists (and writers and poets...)

1 comment:

  1. The way it seems to me Sam ... quality creative works mostly arise from individuals, not collectives.

    Good 'static' Art - like paintings, sculpture, photography, literature - is created by individuals, I can't think of any created by committees.

    On the other hand, good 'dynamic' Art - movies, music, theatre - is more often collaborative, though again, the inspiration typically arises from one individual.

    The above examples are 'non-functional' though.

    So in addition there's artifacts, things that are designed for a purpose - like architecture, furniture, cars, wallpaper - that fuse artistic elements with functionality. They may arise from individual endeavour or collaborative effort, but again, it's usually one individual that conceives the product, the rest just help to realise it.

    From time to time, a couple of like-minded individuals will create something that is more than 'the sum of it's parts', by bouncing ideas of each other. But once you get more than two, I suspect too much compromise starts to sneak in!

    I think it's much the same in Science too!