A visual timeline of STEM to STEAM incubation from 2003 onward (which is by no means all inclusive) accompanying “On Cultural Polymathy: How Visual Thinking, Culture, and Community Create a Platform for Progress” — an article I wrote for Claremont Graduate University’s The STEAM Journal. Unfortunately, the image wasn’t approved for use so I’m posting it here.
Read the full article.
Credit: Timeline created by Whitney Dail with images from The Institute For Figuring, MAKE Magazine, Science Gallery, John Wiseman, Whitney Dail, Stan Alcorn, World Science Festival, The Creators Project, Miwa Matreyek, and The STEAM Journal.
“￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Subjects regarded as making important contributions to creative thinking include art and music, but science and mathematics also score highly.” —Adobe Systems Incorporated
Adobe has released Creativity and Education: Why it Matters, a new study that sheds light on the role of creativity in career success and the growing belief that creativity is not just a personality trait, but a learned skill.
Download the PDF.
Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave: ‘The Louvre of the Paleolithic Galleries’*
Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the story of Chauvet Cave’s great art discovered only in December 1994. It’s a beautiful film offering a sensory experience into Paleolithic man’s paintings (and perhaps early attempts at animation) through music, storytelling, and images that you can only revisit through the DVD. With Herzog as the mediator and a small cast of archeologists and historians, we’re offered a rare glimpse into the human history of the cave and the search for meaning in the artwork as well as nearby landscapes and cultures.
What’s interesting is that even as Herzog follows the scientific investigation, its speculative nature is always present. As the unicyclist-juggler turned archeologist points out, the past cannot ever fully be known or reconstructed. There is just as much mysticism surrounding the people who decorated the caves and the panels upon panels of stunning depictions of horses, ibexes, lions, rhinoceroses, and bears. Two characters named Carole and Gilles have traced and analyzed the contours, layering, and compositions. They believe they can tell truths about the creators (down to one six-foot-tall person with a crooked pinky finger) and the creative process, all by reading line weight, shading, and human handprints.
What scientists DO know about Chauvet is that at approximately 31,000 years old, it’s the oldest known rock art — predating the art in Lascaux. The 1,300-foot cave has been spatially mapped (see above) in its entirety using laser scanners. (These digital images of the cave have stuck with me.) But for all of the scientific research that’s been conducted, we’re still fascinated by the earliest acts of artistic expression. The mysteries of modern human origins, especially early arts and culture, are what keep us searching for answers. Joe Morgenstern wrote in a Wall Street Journal review, “The unknowable or the mysteriously ambiguous in human behavior is what sets Mr. Herzog’s synapses to firing with singular intensity.”
I’ve seen Cave of Forgotten Dreams on four occasions. The first time was in a small, packed theater in Savannah, and it took my breath away. I felt especially moved because in 2007 I studied in the South of France and visited several nearby caves (including Lauscaux II, the recreation) during a Paleolithic rock art course. But the connection is more universal. Do yourself a favor and watch this film on Netflix streaming.
* According to sociobiologist E.O. Wilson in “On the Origins of the Arts” for Harvard Magazine.
Credit: Photo by unknown source. Screencaps by Whitney Dail.
Understanding Dark Matter and Dark Energy
I’m currently reading Richard Panek’s The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality that tells the story of the standard cosmological model, starting in 1965 and leading up to the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. Panek’s anecdotes are informative and enjoyable, describing dark matter and dark energy’s reveal through the work of unusual physicists and astronomers. But being a visual learner, I needed to “see” the numbers. So… Voila! Behold the the Jelly Bean Universe, a visual representation explaining atoms (4% lightly-colored beans) and the rest of the universe (96% black beans, equaling 23% dark matter and 73% dark energy) — “dark” simply meaning unknown.
Bonus: Learn how to make your own universe on YouTube from Fermilab’s Kurt Riesselmann, the man who deconstructed John Updike’s Cosmic Gall poem.
Credit: Photo by Fermilab.
“There are thousands of da Vinci-likes that are out there in every field that are tying information together and growing beyond it.” —Todd Siler
Todd Siler’s talk on how ArtScience can save the world from January 2012. Siler is a respected visual artist with a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Interdisciplinary Studies in Psychology and Art. He coined the word ArtScience in 1990, stemming from his doctoral research on creativity during the eighties, which he defines as the process of “integrative thinking” that joins art with science and vice versa.
Credit: Video by TEDxTalks.
Reaching for the Stars, Aiming at Galaxies
Vera Cooper Rubin (b. 1928) is an American astronomer who pioneered research on galactic rotation and, according to Richard Panek, “discovered some of the most compelling evidence for the existence of dark matter,” although why her Wikipedia page is so sparse is beyond me.
Rubin never took advice to steer clear of science as a profession. She graduated from Vassar College with an undergraduate degree in astronomy — the only astronomy major in her class — and received her master’s from Cornell University in 1950 after not being allowed into Princeton’s astronomy program due to being a woman. That same year at twenty-two years old, Rubin presented her ill-received thesis challenging Hubble’s research to the American Astronomical Society in Haverford, Pennsylvania with newborn in tow (the first of four children, a geologist named David).
In 1954, she completed her doctorate at George Washington University in only two years with a dissertation titled “Fluctuations in the Space Distribution of the Galaxies.” Rubin became the first woman to be hired by Carnegie Institute’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) in 1965 where she still works today at the age of 84. Her entire body of work has been driven by sheer curiosity and questioning of the science before her time.
To graduates of American University’s Class of 2011, Rubin offered this advice: “If you really have something you want to do — and it surely doesn’t have to be astronomy — and you really think that it’s worth doing, you should go ahead and do it.” Pay no mind to naysayers. As Vera Rubin reminds us, only you are in charge of your destiny, and that’s why I love her story.
Credit: Photo by Archives and Special Collections of Vassar College.
Museum Mondays: Mapping Museum Experience
On October 26, 2012, The New York Times reported the results of a scientific study on the museum-going experience of 576 adults who visited Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum St. Gallen during June to August 2009. Martin Tröndle and his transdisciplinary team of researchers in sociology, psychology, art theory, curatorial practice, and museum visitor studies set out to understand the “art-affected state” — how the museum’s environment influences a visitor’s subconsciousness and emotional reactions to art as well as the psychological effects on their behavior. Dorothy Spears writes in the article:
Among Mr. Tröndle’s more surprising conclusions was that there appeared to be little difference in engagement between visitors with a proficient knowledge of art and “people who are engineers and dentists,” he said, adding that artists, critics and museum directors often walk into the middle of an exhibition space, scan it and then maybe look at one work before continuing on, while visitors with moderate curiosity and interest tend to move diligently from work to work and read text panels.
“We could almost say that knowledge is making you ignorant,” he said.
Interestingly, art perception and movement through the museum differs depending on a visitor’s educational background. An artistic (or aesthetic) result noted on the website is that “The more attention a work accumulates over the week, the more intense the representation becomes. The less a work is observed, the paler its field of influence.” Research on the museum experience is still fresh and ongoing as Tröndle et al. expect their publications to culminate by the end of this year. Learn more about the project here.
Online Article: Tröndle et al. (2011). The Entanglement of Arts and Sciences: On the Transaction Costs of Transdisciplinary Research Settings. Journal for Artistic Research, 1.
Credit: Video by France 24 Le Journal de la Culture via YouTube.
Hugh Aldersey-Williams on the impact of cadmium in art (from Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc):
These superior colours made themselves indispensable to painters. A few had quibbles about their supposed artificiality — William Holman Hunt complained that cadmium yellow ‘at the best is very capricious’ — but most saw the bright, pure colours for what they were. The Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and above all the Fauvists made good use of cadmium — or, it would be more accurate to say, cadmium made possible these successive waves of artistic revolution. As each new tint became available, it powered in turn the yellow sunsets of Monet, the orange-soaked Arles interiors of van Gogh and Matisse’s Red Studio. People have romantically supposed that van Gogh was too hard up to buy the new pigments, while others believe the artist’s mental state may have been affected by his use of cadmium (although he was certainly also using more noxious pigments). What is sure is that he and his peers suddenly had access to a palette of colours of an intensity never seen before. (p. 289)
Credit: Henri Matisse, Red Studio, 1911 (via WikiPaintings).
NASA Langley Research Center’s Wind Tunnels
These wind tunnels are incredible — just look at the massive scale! The top image (taken in 1950) is of a 19-foot Pressure Wind Tunnel with a 35-feet high by 47-feet wide ellipse. The other photo (taken in 1990 -ed.) is of a 16-foot Transonic Tunnel built in 1939. The caption reads:
Operating transonically or across the speed of sound, the air in the test section travels from about 150 to 1,000 miles per hour. The tunnel is called the “16-Foot” because its test section is approximately 16 feet in diameter. The guide vanes, which form an ellipse 58-feet high and 82-feet wide, cut across each cylindrical tube at a 45 degree angle. Similar sets of vanes at the three other corners of the wind tunnel turn the air uniformly as it rushes through the 1000-foot race-track-like enclosed tube.
Another tidbit about the 16-foot tunnel describes how it was used during World War II to test cooling systems and high-speed propellers as well as some of the first builds of the atomic bomb. NASA Langley actually has dozens of wind tunnels. Today they’re used to test flight dynamics, transonic research, and subtle modifications in aircraft designs via computerized flight simulation.
Read more about NASA Langley’s wind tunnels here.
Credit: Photos courtesy of (top) NASA on The Commons and (bottom) NASA Langley Research Center.
“It’s always about captivating the impossible… It’s what lives on the horizon of what we can think, and that’s where I feel this particular work of artists is exciting. It somehow deals with the edge of what is knowable.” —Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967) is last week’s guest on Modern Art Notes Podcast, talking a little about his recent exhibition Volcanoes and Shelters at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (on view from now until December 22nd). In July 2012, Eliasson traveled to Iceland three times to photograph fifty-six volcanic craters, documenting the geological age of Earth. The resulting photographs are breathtaking! Just take a look at the images above. Eliasson goes on to explain his interest in philosophy, perception, shared experiences, collaborating with scientists to solve creative problems, and the relationship between the aesthetic and the somatic. I’ve always loved his work and process as well as his creative drive. Click here to listen to an MP3 of Modern Art Notes Podcast: Olafur Eliasson (October 18, 2012).
Credit: All photos by Olafur Eliasson.