Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Diverse Avocations

There is a common belief, particularly among those who are disconnected from the two fields, that art and science are as dissimilar as pencils and petri dishes.

Science and Art
Science=analytical, logical, left brain activity
Art=synthetic, intuitive, right brain activity

Scientists study science using observation, techniques and creativity. Artists create art using observation, technique and creativity. My acronym for these basic components of both fields is OCT, not to be confused with the mounting medium used in tissue sectioning.

DaVinci, Galileo, Fuertes, Potter. These artists epitomize combining science and representational art. DaVinci requires no discourse; he is a model of art and science never separated. Galileo Galilei used drawing to describe his scientific work; Louis Agassiz Fuertes was equally knowledgeable in the science of ornithology and the art of painting. Beatrice Potter used OCT to create her children’s books AND to study fungi at the level of any first class mycologist. Indeed, it is her classification system for fungi that is still used today.

Traditional natural science illustrators (Fuertes, Audubon, Maria Sibylla Merian, Edward Lear (yes!) have always combined the two fields of study. Scientists and explorers, physicians and astronomers always illustrated their own ideas. When the job market became more specialized, the fields separated, but only on paper. Interview five hundred scientists or take an informal poll: a large percentage of scientists are also artists-painters, photographers, musicians, writers and dancers. Conversely, artists cannot go far without employing chemistry, physics, the study of perspective, light, spacial relationships and technology. Sculptors and dancers must understand physics and the laws of gravity.

Universities are increasingly crossing curricula. The January Light in Winter festival at Cornell University focused on art and science. Dancer Mauren Woldman collaborates with musicians and visual artists. Not unusual. She is also working on a project intersecting dance and physics. Makes sense. With Redshift Productions, founded by Megan Halpern and Max Evjen, Woldman and physicist Itai Cohen use dance and verbal explanations to explain physics concepts. The dancer moves in a Brownian motion, like bacteria do in contaminated cell cultures. Together, the dancer and physicist illustrate basic physics concepts like inertia, buoyancy, energy and force. Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, their campuses touching, offer duel degree programs in design and engineering, painting and poetry, art and science. Closer to home, Binghamton University takes cross-curriculia seriously as well, and even closer to home, the children at the Alternative School for Math and Science are currently using their English, biology and art classes to study birds.

Commonalities are ubiquitous across all subjects we consider different. Diversity differentiates minutia within the larger sphere of overlapping concepts.

Field study of plantain and fiddleheads

Study of seed dispersal


About ghalpert

Gretchen Halpert is a scientific illustrator living in New York's southern Finger Lakes

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2010 by and tagged , , .
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