What is Science-Art?



With my weekly Scumble posts, the Science-Artists Feed and upcoming session at ScienceOnline11 with John Hawks and David Orr, I've been talking a lot about Science Art ( aka: sciart, science-based art, etc).

What is Science Art?

It's always tough when you're in the middle of a burgeoning artistic movement to label it, and even the various art manifestos that pepper art history are unsatisfying to later palates.

That said, I find there's often confusion when talking about art between the large umbrella term "ART" and the more specific world of what we mean when we refer to Fine Art.  Scientific Illustration is not Fine Art; they're both different branches under the Art phylogenetic tree, if you'll permit the metaphor.

There can be some horizontal genetic transfers; images that make the leap between different types of art. Most commonly this happens with time, such as the scientific illustrations of Audobon appearing in fine art history texts as a bit of a nod to the influence scientific illustration can have in fine art.

Here's my attempt to label what Science-Art is. Most of this is cribbed from my need for definitions that I used for ScienceOnline09.


My bias is showing: many examples are biology related.  I've tried to limit each category here to a few examples.  You can see I've also largely left out photography and cartoons and comics, though arguably (and I'm prepared to argue!) many examples of those may deserve to be included here.

5 types of Science Art:

1. Scientific Illustration - Examples: Carl BuellAlbrecht Durer, many artists’ work at the Guild of Natural Scientific Illustrators.

2. Science Fine Art & Design - Examples: Felice FrankelMarc Quinn, Paul WaldeWim Delvoye.


3. Art using scientific subjects as a springboard - Examples: Dali’s Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus),  Archimboldo, Lynn Fellman, myself.

4. Art inspired and made by scientific technique - Examples: op art & trompe l’oeilMan RayDIY Biohackers Klari Reis.

5. Speculative science art & science fiction - Examples: Nemo RamjetSpeculative Dinosaur Projectsome Dougal Dixon booksWayne Barlowe.

Are there more categories?  Where would you place some of your favourite science-artists?
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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

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Fossils, Genes and Art - Atheists Talk Podcast

"Fossils, Genes and Art", the Atheists Talk podcast recorded today live on the radio, is now up!  Click here to listen, or here to go to the podcast on iTunes.

Thanks to host Mike Haubrich, to science-artist Lynn Fellman and to the Minnesota Atheists and AM 950 KTNF and its sponsors for the show. 
Okay, so:  about the parasite thing. Two years ago at ScienceOnline09, I brought up the idea that artists who are inspired by science (like moi) are somewhat parasitic on the science that inspires: we don't give a lot back, we don't direct research. (Review at Ars Technica of that session here.)

The group at scio09 resoundingly rejected this, and concede and agree:  science-artists do a lot to inspire and explore and speak to the scientifically literate and enthusiastic audience. However, the do little to lead actual research.

As soon as you couch a scientific idea in a metaphor, you remove it further from the data and evidence. This means it's not usually possible for it to stimulate a new hypothesis, and lead to new inquiry.  Science-art responds to inquiry, explores it. So in that sense science-art is parasitic.

Science-art contributes to the cloud of scientific inspiration and understanding; it doesn't coalesce into the lightning strikes of scientific research.
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This tweet...

 Glendon Mellow 
Uh-oh: I said artists are largely parasitic on science during the radio interview.

...has stimulated a bit of talk on Twitter (in typical reverse-order, newest at the top):

 


»
 Katura Reynolds 
@ 
@ So I'll claim that art (in form of illustration/drawing yr observations) can be integral to the *practice* of research.
 Katura Reynolds 
@ 
@ And many naturalists (like MS Merian) documented their sci discoveries thru art to capture data: 
 Katura Reynolds 
As illustrator, I've pointed out details that scientists missed...RT @: Very little art influences scientific research.
 Katura Reynolds 
Hm; I lack context for statement, but not sure I agree. RT @: Very little art directly influences scientific research.
 Brian George 
@ 
@ That's why I'm here. Can you link to the interview? I'd love to hear it if possible.
 Romeo Vitelli 
@ 
@ @ You can claim that you meant to say symbiotic but the liberal media misquoted you (works for Sarah Palin)
 David Dobbs 
RT @: Uh-oh: I said artists are largely parasitic on science during the radio interview. DD: That's it for you, parasite.
 Brian George 
@ 
@ How could you??!! *removes lamprey-like suckers from Neil Tyson's brainstem*

I think at #scio11 we'll be past this point - I don't think there's a lot more to say on it. Two years ago I underestimated the affect art has on science, yet I still contend it's a rare thing for a piece of visual art to lead to a new area of research.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.


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Listen this morning to Atheists Talk

This morning I'll be on Atheists Talk with science artist Lynn Fellman, hosted by Mike Haubrich.

We'll be discussing art and science, and I can't wait.

The show will be online at http://mnatheists.org/content/view/529/1/ at 10am Eastern, 9 am Central time.

And you'll be able to hear the podcast, likely later today. If you're attending ScienceOnline11, it will touch on some of the issues at the Art + Science session.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.


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