Felice Frankel on Studio 360

Studio 360 is featuring audio and a slide show narrated by Felice Frankel, science-photographer and co-author of No Small Matter.




(produced by Studio 360's Sarah Lilley)

You may remember Felice and I co-facilitated a session at ScienceOnline2010 last year, discussing science-imagery and metaphor.  We had a great time, and her insights into the physics of the nano-scale are accessible and aesthetically wondrous.  Lots of links here.

Check it out and head over to Studio 360 to comment, or better still pick up No Small Matter by Felice Frankel and George Whitesides-it's a treasure.


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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.
The work above is © Felice Frankel, and the slideshow was produced by Sarah Lilley.



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ScienceOnline2010: anthropomorphizing is fun to say

(You can read more for our session Pushing it 'til it breaks: what are the limits of visual metaphors? by clicking here or on the scio10art label below, or by checking the wiki.)

Visual metaphors not only help describe difficult concepts, but they can also allow you to play with them. One of my favourite ways to do that, is by anthropomorphizing them, giving objects personality and purpose, either through their relationship to one another, or by injecting them with human qualities they don't actually possess.

Consider the following images I've made.

Darwin Took Steps

Sowing Seeds & Fossils

Science-Chess Accommodating Religion

Haldane's Precambrian Puzzle (config a: false rabbit)
Haldane's Precambrian Puzzle (config b: true trilobite)

How does each give a personality to inactive objects?

What are the spatial relationships?

Do you feel the metaphor is decisive about an issue, as in a political cartoon? Is it open ended?

What do you see? What do you imagine happens next?

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


Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

ScienceOnline2010: Push it til it breaks

(Today, a guest post by my ScienceOnline2010 session co-leader, Felice Frankel!)The process of coming up with a visual metaphor to explain to someone a particular scientific concept can be quite effective, not only for your readers, but for you –– the process can help to clarify the concept in your own mind. In addition, a discussion about the limitations of that metaphor can be just as clarifying (and fun!). We are incorporating this idea in our NSF-funded Picturing to Learn program.

For years, I have wanted to create an online library of metaphors to communicate complicated science concepts and to engage whoever was interested in why and where those metaphors fall apart. We should do it. Who wants to be part of it?

Here a just a few examples from George Whitesides' and my new book No Small Matter, Science on the Nanoscale.
Quantum Apple

...an attempt to depict the counter intuitiveness of quantum mechanics. Not necessarily a deep portrayal to be sure. I just wanted the reader to get a handle about the idea that QM is NOT like the world as we "see" it.



Writing with Light

How some devices are made using "photolithography".



Graduation Chairs

...so much of what we see is dependent upon where our heads are at, at the time we see it. Coincidentally, while I was working with researchers at MIT imaging samples showing "templated self-assembly" of block co-polymers (another example with which you are more familiar would be DNA replication), the facilities folks were setting up chairs for parents which were meant as "guides" or "templates", where to sit during graduation. Again, nothing that profound but perhaps interesting enough to get some feedback. I decided to post the image and ask people to write to me and suggest what they see in the metaphor. The responses were all over the place:
"... an illustration of orbitals and similar constraints on electrons in an atom."

"The image reminds me of columns (or rows :D) of ICs"

"...circuit on the motherboard of a computer."

"...gravestone markers in a cemetery."

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We'll see you at ScienceOnline2010!
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Today's images Copyright by Felice Frankel.

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


Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

ScienceOnline2010: Art & Science - what works?

At the upcoming ScienceOnline2010 in January, Felice Frankel and I will be on hand again to lead a session discussing art & science.

To follow this series of posts, click the "scio10art" label below. (I will also be doing a workshop about digital painting with a tablet - for more on that, look for posts labelled with "scio10tablet".) You may also comment or check in with our session's wiki page.
Part 1
- Art historical background to metaphor

Part 2 - Categories of visual metaphor in science art

The type of metaphor I spend a lot of time thinking about could be called narrative or allegorical metaphor. I like to use one object as a symbol for an idea, or sometimes multiple objects, to tell a story or give an image meaning.

An image I am very familiar with (and many Flying Trilobite readers will be as well) is the oil painting Darwin Took Steps I made in 2008. I'd like to use it as an example for some questions for the session. I think Darwin Took Steps is useful due to its relative popularity; it has appeared on a magazine cover, two book covers, numerous blogs, is on display in
a museum in Spain and caused a ruckus on the art network deviantArt last year.

Okay, so; the Darwin painting.

1) What are your first thoughts about this painting and what it may mean?

2) How necessary do you think knowing the title was before seeing the painting to the metaphor's success? Does the title point too blatantly?

3) Is the painting disrespectful to you? Irreverent? Exalting? Does it imply worship or mockery?

4) I stuck stairs on the head of an esteemed (sometimes reviled) naturalist. How
do your feelings match the metaphor?

5) Portraiture has a long history, and it's likely most people have seen portraits, possibly even the Charles Darwin photos I used as reference for this painting. What mental scaffolding does the idea of a portrait raise in your mind?
How do you know when you are looking at a portrait

6) Although I'm proud of most of my paintings, this one seems to resonate with people. Let's be specific: Um why? Why a portrait of Darwin with stairs?


7) Years ago, I did another painting of an elderly gent with stairs on its head, called Disease (below). Its popularity does not approach anywhere near Darwin Took Steps.Is it the colour and skill-level of the painting? What does Charles Darwin bring to the painting that this random figure does not? Which is a more conventional portrait and why do you think so? Despite the similarities, how do the titles change your perceptions of each painting?

8) A clue to the baggage any image of Charles Darwin specifically brings is through the comments on deviantArt. Darwin Took Steps was an image-of-the-day on Feb 12 2008, and kicked off over 500 comments from dA users debating Darwin's contribution from both a scientifically & historically literate stance and a creationist stance. Few comments were directed at the painting itself.

Is the power of a metaphor through suggestion rather than explanation?


Comment below with more questions you would like to discuss, responses or directions you would like to see the discussion session move to. You don't have to be attending the un-conference to contribute!


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

Flying Trilobite Gallery
*** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***
A portion of the sales of reproductions of Darwin Took Steps go to benefit the Beagle Project.

ScienceOnline2010: Art & Science - metaphors

part 1 can be found here, discussing metaphors with one thin slice of an example that is also rich and filling. To follow this series of posts, click the "scio10art" label below. (I will also be doing a workshop about digital painting with a tablet - for more on that, look for posts labelled with "scio10tablet".)

At the upcoming ScienceOnline2010 in January, I will be on hand again to lead a session discussing art & science, this time working alongside Felice Frankel. As last year, here are some of the subjects for this year's session in advance, so whether or not you will be attending you can take part in this discussion. I don't presume to speak for Felice here, although after a fun phone call a few weeks ago, I think it's safe to say we'll be leading the discussion and not heatedly debating.

It is important to recognize at the outset that categorizing artwork under a few banners will never fully satisfy. Even placing them along a spectrum, one type fading into another related type is inadequate, as art can contain imagery and meaning from any point in a spectrum.

But I'm gonna do it anyway. I think it helps to have some kind of a map to guide our discussion, while recognizing a different map would lea
d to different treasures. Let us also begin with the assumption that metaphors abound in science as well as in art, presumably because we humans find new and strange things easier to grasp when we relate them to things we already know.

Breezing past these issues, here are a few types of metaphor that appear in scientific imagery. (At Felice's suggestion, I'll often use the word imagery in place of art - it opens up the field.)

1) Data visualization metaphors- Graphs & charts. Medical & scientific illustration. Literal metaphors with a specific intent of clarifying information about real world phenomena. Last year, attendee Ryan Somma of Ideonexus blogged that "operating systems are basically a collection of metaphors for all the inner mechanical and electronic workings".

At left, a diagram of a representative triglyceride found in linseed oil (by Smokefoot, public domain). Not how it would appear to the naked eye, but a useful language of chemical metaphors is used to help visualize relationships.

At left, an image of cool objects past Pluto (by Lexicon, under GNU licence). Here, what does the positioning of the plutoids tell us? What metaphorical relationship is revealing a truth, and what is erroneous in favour of the metaphor?




2) Narrative & allegorical metaphors - Illustration. Image representing ideas. (my own artwork falls here). Often traditional materials are used in a Renaissance or children's book style.

At left, The Young Family, a cautionary metaphor by Patricia Piccinini, with a sort of bioengineering, uncanny valley, Frankensteinish motif.



Migrations, a blog banner (by me) commissioned for Dan Rhoads science blog, Migrations.



3) Abstracted science metaphors - Using data-gathering tools but divorced from immediately applicable data. Inspirational and provocative. Abstracted from science imagery. Image for image's sake (perhaps technique is the message, a la MacLuhan?) Much of Felice's work falls here, in my opinion.

Ferrofluid, a drop of ferro-fluid being affected by magnets, on a glass side with a yellow Post-It underneath. Copyright Felice Frankel.









The Cone, by Andy Goldsworthy, (left) an environmental and found object artist.









At what point does the artistic nature of a metaphor take over, creating an art object that is no longer scientifically useful in representing data? This question came up during SciBarCamp here in Toronto last May when an interesting disagreement came up between an artist and a biomedical simulator, and has been explored by Jessica Palmer at Bioephemera as well. We've all watched a metaphor run away with itself - this is neither good nor bad, but certainly useful in a different way than a specific metaphor describing single phenomena.

There may kind of be a 4th category as well, though I do not know if we will deal with it in session.

4) Metaphors that mislead - here I'm thinking about things like the overly mechanical illustrations by creationists to help them explain the faulty irreducible complexity arguments of eyes and bacterial flagellum. Medical illustration illuminates certain features while omitting others for the sake of clarification, but I suspect so-called intelligent design illustrations omit and highlight in a fictional way to lead viewers to erroneous conclusions.

I'd love to hear other people's examples of images in these categories (or examples that disrupt them!) in the comments below!


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Science Online 2010: Art & Science intro

At the upcoming ScienceOnline2010 in January, I will be on hand again to lead a session discussing art & science, this time working alongside Felice Frankel. I thought I would do as last year, and put up some of the things I'm thinking about for this year's session in advance, so whether or not you will be attending, you can take part in this discussion. I don't presume to speak for Felice here, although after a wonderful phone call a few weeks ago, I think it's safe to say we'll be leading the discussion and not heatedly debating.

To follow this series of posts, click the "scio10art" label below.
(I will also be doing a workshop about digital painting with a tablet - for more on that, look for posts labelled with "scio10tablet".)

Let's get started.

From the wiki, "
How has our vocabulary of metaphors changed in the wake of scientific inquiry and visualization? This year, let’s take a trip through metaphors in science-based art and discuss how visual representations can enhance understanding, inspire wonder in science and the tension along the Accuracy-Artistic Divide."

Last year we discussed art, science, the two cultures, and I identified what I feel are various types of science-art. I also fretted about art being parasitic on scientific discovery, and could only identify a few instances where art propelled research.

This year, I'd like to focus on artistic metaphors in science imagery.


From The Free Dictionary, metaphors are: "
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison...One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol...."

Visual metaphors are just that, symbols of one thing representing another, making a comparison, usually of their similarities. They have a rich history in art. The following example isn't necessarily related to science-images, but I feel it will be instructive about typical metaphor in fine art painting. This is one of my favourite paintings, alternatively known as Art or The Sphinx or The Caresses, by Fernand Khnopff, a Belgian Symbolist who painted this in 1896. To use this as one representative example, we see here a variety of metaphors. The artist is cheek to cheek with his muse, a rather androgynous, perhaps feminine version of himself (Khnopff favoured strong jawlines on the women he painted). They are alone in a landscape, alone with their thoughts, and seem to be communing. The artist gazes outward at the world, and the muse has closed eyes and a Mona Lisa-inspired smile, a typical Symbolist expression denoting "looking inward at the soul". The exotic cheetah stripes on the Sphinx also shows the wildness of the artist's thoughts.

Most of the metaphors I have just described were likely intended by Khnopff. In our contemporary view, one criticism we may employ is that many of the Symbolists portrayed the men as hero-poets in thrall to not-quite-human women, portraying their anxiety at turn of the century European culture.

It's one example, but The Sphinx begins to show us how many visual metaphors can be packed into a simple painting with two figures.

Next post: an overview of science art & imagery, categorizing them by type of metaphor.



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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***