Over the past several months, I have been listening to a lot of art-related podcasts. Currently, my favorite one is “Your Creative Push”. In the process of listening to interviews of multiple artists, certain elements appear again and again. These include:
In several of her posts, Darcy wrote about the importance of “beholder’s share” in viewing art. While from a creative perspective, the concept sounds very poetic, a similar approach in science would have been called “bias” and would carry a much more negative connotation. But as much as we would like to remain objective in recording our scientific observations, we know that we are all guilty of it. When you are using data to construct a cohesive scientific model, it is akin to assembling a puzzle - you do your best to make the pieces fit together. This means that rather than trying to fit a “square peg in a round hole”, you begin your search with an assumption that you know what you are looking for to complete the missing pieces.
So how does this relate to art? Do we go out into the world with the full intentions of openly observing our surroundings or are we consciously or subconsciously looking for a particular puzzle piece that is missing in our current work? I believe that the latter version is probably more prominent than we would like to admit. We perceive the world through the prism of looking for a solution for our current challenge (in both art and science).
Last week I wrote about the inspiration I drew from Theordore Rousseau’s painting “The Forest in the Winter at Sunset”, which I wanted to combine with a jewel of hope. This week I happened to go to the Brooklyn Museum, where I saw the following 2 paintings. What in the world do they have to do with my work? Well, I was mesmerized by minuscule scale of a single person juxtaposed against the vastness of each of these landscapes.
The same feeling came from observing the work of Richard Gaston, who photographs people as tiny speckles against the grandiose backdrop of nature. This is how I wanted to position the white jewel of hope mentioned in my previous post against the background of the intertwined neurons.
Over the last several days, I was finally able to start working on the first layer of blue neurons from Darcy’s image. I am continuing the prop up all of the cells and now adding long processes to connect them to each other and eventually create a dense network.
And I am just beginning to play around with the question of where the white jewel should go…
If we accept that simplified models (such as my example of the cell in the last blog) make scientific knowledge more accessible, I think art also has a powerful role that is similar. Part of what art evokes is an emotional response in the viewer. Emotion motivates interest and makes an idea meaningful and without it, we have difficulty caring even if we do understand something intellectually. So, to make science more widely appreciated it must be presented in the language of enthusiasm, inspiration, and connectedness to other human concerns. These are all
components of what we call “beauty”.
The thing that has always drawn me to science is beauty. The elegance of an explanation or the integration of questions and observations into an awestruck moment of clarity. The sheer aesthetic burst that hits me in the chest when I look at Ernst Haeckel's radiolarians or the grief at the present acidification of our oceans, is enough to convince me that it is how I feel about nature that makes me want to explore it.
Both Yana and I are working from the above image in our respective residency projects. I am slowly transforming this image into a painting. In my last blog post, I showed to progress over five weeks. The following image is my progress so far.
I am understanding this image more deeply and it is becoming a sort of companion. My attention is focused on discovering the intricacies of it. A carefully crafted artwork becomes a manifestation born from an intimate connection between the image and me. I know and care about it. I have just discovered a book on this topic that I am anxious to read, Drawing as a Way of Knowing in Art and Science by Gemma Anderson. Drawing and painting are a type of close observation that requires ongoing interpretation, evaluation, and commitment. Missteps become glaring. I am learning so much about so many things while I work out the possibilities of this piece. I suppose my point is that the process of making art is personal for me and I want to convey that in some way. The viewer, however, only needs to pay attention to the beholder’s share.
This emotional connection to things we study closely is essential whether it is subatomic particles, bacteria, neurons or a painting. Andrea Wulf in “The Invention of Nature” eloquently revisits Alexander Von Humboldt’s conviction that “memories and emotional responses would always form part of man’s experience and understanding of nature”. In Humboldt’s “Cosmos” he united all sources of scientific discovery of the mid-1800s with the passion of a poet. He emphasized that all knowledge should be integrated and made accessible to the general public. Scientific models embody a theory and can act as a powerful tool to further our objective understanding of nature. The arts enrich and enliven this theoretical structure, make new connections and even reorganize it. Creativity drives the questions we ask that lead to the refinement of human understanding. Emotion motivates us by giving meaning and purpose to the process of “finding out” about the natural world and ourselves in it.