Showing 17 posts tagged thesis

Luke Murphy Lecture

Luke Murphy, Certainty Shelter, installation shot (via).

Canadian tech-artist Luke Murphy (now living in NYC) visited SCAD on Thursday to talk to the Painting Department about his digital art. His work is non-narrative. It explores “disembodied digital line” and a completely aesthetic use of digital media using algorithms and programmed code. Interestingly, Murphy said that the dividing line between traditional and new media art is randomness. This is the basis for his work, which he says gives digital art a touch of ‘naturalness’. He collects Geiger counters and uses them in reaction to uranium glass objects to produce random, unrepeatable visualizations. Take, for instance, his piece Barney’s Next Step After Canvas. This is, of course, a result of one interaction with a radioactive object so it recreates Barnett Newman’s zips inspired by the painting Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51). While I enjoyed his humor and experimentation, I’m not sold on a fixation with randomness. Art of this nature, in my opinion, is more intelligible when it has a greater purpose for interacting with science. Also, Murphy started this work in the early 1990s and his aesthetic hasn’t really changed since. It would be interesting to see the results of a collaboration with more skilled programmers.

Dan Goods talks about working with NASA/JPL as Visual Strategist. Dan is an example of a creative person with a background in art and design working in the field of science. His goal is to make experiences for people to experience science. There’s a funny segment at the beginning of this video where he lists the normal steps for getting a job with JPL and then the ‘alternative path’, which is how he got in.

I’ve been working on my literature review for my thesis. Dan’s work relates directly to research I’ve conducted on creativity and innovation where the arts merge with science. It’s been enjoyable reading Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity, and David Edwards’ The Lab. I also feel like I could spend the entire month overloading ideas into my head with TED Talks. They’re definitely “ideas worth spreading.”

Thesis Starts Now!

I have to start writing my thesis… Today is the first day of Winter quarter and I am registered for my last class towards my masters: Arts Administration M.A. Thesis. I’m excited to get started, but the break was so long—6 weeks out of the swing. Now I need to dive in and continue my research and start writing. As of right now, my working title is “Convergent Innovation: Uniting Art and Science in Creativity,” but this could change.

So let me explain my topic…

Whether in the art museum or science museum, studio or laboratory, the recent intersection of art and science is not limited by setting. If the setting is unimportant, then how is the practice of interdisciplinary collaboration taking place? Rather than limiting the practice to one discipline or the other—art-based or science-based—it must be a collaborative partnership. Therefore, my proposed thesis will explore the institutionalization of reciprocal practices between both disciplines.

I plan on researching and analyzing the advantages and limitations of three existing models: an educational initiative, a cross-cultured museum, and a non-profit arts organization. (Possible examples include MIT Media Lab and the Exploratorium.) Then the next component will propose a new-and-improved interdisciplinary model.

Background of Study

In 1959, renowned physicist C. P. Snow delivered a lecture at the University of Cambridge lamenting the lack of communication between two intellectually elite disciplines. Frustrated with the cultural divide between natural sciences and the humanities, he coined this crisis the “The Two Cultures.” Snow warned that if the gap were not bridged, the role of science in society would be one of misunderstanding and alienation. As an even greater repercussion, this increasing separation could stifle future progress. His argument was simple: in order to foster creativity and innovation, the two disciplines must come together.

In historical context, Snow’s “two cultures” is a predominantly British phenomenon attributed to academic snobbery between Cambridge and Oxford at the time. Furthermore, the rift was framed between scientists and literary minds. According to Snow, while scientists have the “future in their bones,” literary intellectuals are preoccupied with traditional culture. This difference in scholarly interests keeps the two disciplines from mingling, perpetuating the gap. However, Snow ultimately feared scientific illiteracy resulting from a lack of appreciation. In his opinion, preserving science’s cultural role is dependent upon less specialization and more comprehension in education. Finding a balance between the practicality of science and the ingenuity of the humanities is therefore essential.

Ten years later, visionary thinker Buckminster Fuller foretold of the blurring of lines between science and art. In his essay “Prevailing Conditions in the Arts,” Fuller describes a dialogue with Snow sharing sentiments for the dichotomy. Fuller proclaims himself a comprehensivist—one that synthesizes underlying relationships in all areas of knowledge. Believing that specialization is unproductive, Fuller envisions a shift towards interdisciplinary practices between art and science. He writes:

“…[M]an is coming into an extraordinary new era on earth, in which we are going to be able to deal conceptually with advanced science. Inasmuch as conceptual communication is art, art will become intimate with science; and philosophy will be able to comprehend the significance of developments; and thought may enter upon new speculation and altogether new comprehension.”

This proposition of interdisciplinary ‘collaboration for innovation’ is not new; many professionals agree that partnership is a necessary development. Jonah Lehrer, a contributing editor at Wired Magazine and author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist (a book examining how the arts have anticipated scientific breakthroughs), often explores the overlap. In early 2008, he wrote an article stressing the need to integrate the arts into the field of scientific research. He stresses that, in order to continue the search for absolute knowledge, “Science needs the arts.” Studies like physics and neuroscience can only go so far with explaining and imagining the intangible truths of our human existence. To put it simply, science is limited by its reductionist methodologies. It is only with the help of artistic interpretation that science can advance because, as Lehrer says, “This world of human experience is the world of the arts.” Because of this commonality, Lehrer believes that art has the distinct ability to augment science.

As Buckminster Fuller predicted, interdisciplinary immersion—the synthesis of art and science—is already underway. Today, a new cultural movement has emerged: Hybrid Arts (or Sci-Arts). This timely development involves individuals and organizations at the intersection of art and science exploring the crossovers and overlaps.

In 2004, American artist Josiah McElheny partnered with cosmologist David Weinberg to create An End to Modernity (2005), a sculptural interpretation of the Big Bang theory executed in both art and science. McElheny founded the partnership during his residency at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts. With a desire to convey an accurate link to science, he was directed to Weinberg through curator Helen Molesworth. To this day, McElheny and Weinberg maintain a collaborative working relationship in exploring cosmology.

As artists consult scientists to execute highly structured works of art, scientists explore their own artistic tendencies. For example, neuroscientist Jeff Lichtman developed Brainbow, a colorful mapping of the brain’s neurons. Brainbow is merely one example of creative representations deriving from scientific research, which draw the attention of both scientists and artists alike.

Various arts organizations are attempting to cultivate this merge including Art and Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI) in New York, Leonardo International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology in San Francisco, and The Arts Catalyst in London. In addition, a number of science organizations have integrated artist-in-labs and artist-in-residence programs, some of which are more successful than others. For instance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employed their first artist-in-residence, Laurie Anderson, in 2003. This program quickly ended in 2005 when a federal bill passed prohibiting NASA to use funds for artists-in-residence. The agency has not sponsored an artist since.

It is clear that the link between art and science is enduring. C. P. Snow’s advice still resonates today. “The Two Cultures” is a catalytic reminder that the disciplines must interact with each other on the same plane. Essentially, it is imperative for both disciplines to work closely with one another without using each other for their own purposes. The pressing question arises: How can this partnership be accomplished without opportunistic outcomes?

Statement of Problem

Despite interdisciplinary efforts of the aforementioned models, a formal model for reciprocal practice is missing. Stephen Wilson, a leading authority on the merge, says, “The intersection of art with science and technology calls for new kinds of resources. Traditional museums, schools, art shows, journals, and organizations will not satisfy the need without significant innovation.” Moreover, the biggest obstacle for reciprocity is perception, a holding pattern of the mind.

There is more of a tendency for artists inspired by science to explore the crossover; scientists, on the other hand, are less inclined to seek the assistance of artists. Though the two fields differ drastically in approach, they share a common denominator: creativity. In 2003, the American Academy of Sciences published a report, Beyond Productivity, stating, “Creativity plays a crucial role in culture; creative activities provide personal, social, and educational benefit.” The underlying motivation for combining art and science is innovation for societal benefit or, in other words, the greater good. As Buckminster Fuller would say, society has progress; now it needs comprehension.

John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design, subscribes to this idea. With a mixed background in computer science and graphic design, he clarifies:

“Our economy is built upon convergent thinkers, people that execute things, get them done. But artists and designers are divergent thinkers: they expand the horizon of possibilities. Superior innovation comes from bringing divergents (the artists and designers) and convergents (science and engineering) together.” (via)

Therefore, it is necessary to implement a shared cultural space—a hybrid model—for artists and scientists to work towards a discourse in both practices. The creation of a hybrid model offers a formal process where both outputs can occur.

A hybrid arts and research institute would provide a project-space for artists and scientists to explore. The mission of the organization is to unite art and science in creativity and to create, display, and educate. The key stipulation for interdisciplinary practices requires that the results are collaborative in nature. Providing professionals in both fields with residencies and laboratories, the institute would also promote and attract a broader range of funding from both art and science grants and fellowships. Exhibiting and publishing the results of the alliance produces an essential byproduct: education. The educational component of the organization is centered on the project space, exhibition space, research space, studios, laboratories, and lecture halls. Lastly, the institute would provide an experience for both the participants and the viewer.

…[M]an is coming into an extraordinary new era on earth, in which we are going to be able to deal conceptually with advanced science. Inasmuch as conceptual communication is art, art will become intimate with science; and philosophy will be able to comprehend the significance of developments; and thought may enter upon new speculation and altogether new comprehension.

R. Buckminster Fuller, from “Prevailing Conditions in the Arts” in Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity.