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 - Digital Tablet intro

This year at ScienceOnline2010, I'll be doing a workshop about using a digital tablet. You can follow along in this series by clicking on the label, scio10tablet, below.

Most of my work is done in analog oil paint, but increasingly I am using a tablet to tweak, fix and outright paint my work. It's a fun tool, really intuitive, and I think children and adults can benefit from their use.

So what are they? Graphic tablets (aka digital tablets) are essentially a touch sensitive surface that plugs into a USB port. It usually has a few buttons you can use as hot-keys, meaning you can assign functions to them (like "undo"). The surface doesn't respond to your fingers, like an iPod Touch or iPhone - it responds to a spooky mouse and spookier pen. I say they're spooky because neither one has batteries or plugs into anything. (Click to enlarge photo) The postcard size grey rectangle on the tablet is the sensitive area, and it maps straight to your screen, even if the aspect ratio is different.

After spending months drooling over tablets er, doing research, I finally bought one in the spring. There are a lot of brands out there, and I really favour Wacom. I have a last-gen (bought in the waning days) Intuos 3. It has 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and can sense the angle of the pen. After loading the drivers, it works with something like 80 programs. (Wacom has recently put out the Intuos 4, which doubles the sensitivity, has more buttons, and comes pre-loaded with da Vinci's brain.)

The touch-sensitive surface used with the pen can do extraordinary things. Using the image program Photoshop Elements 6, here are some lines using a traditional mouse. I used the pencil setting, 100% opacity, black:

Using Photoshop Elements again, here are some similar lines using a tablet. Can you spot the difference?

Using the mouse, the lines have a consistent thickness. Using the tablet, the thickness varies. Let's try the same thing using a translucent pale colour over top of a darker colour. I'm using a digital painting program called ArtRage 2.5 this time. (For those who are interested, I'm using the oil paint setting, thinners set to 75% to increase translucency.)
Mouse:Tablet:

You can see the pressure-sensitive tablet varied not only the thickness of the line, but the opacity of the colour. Hm. It's really noticeable comparing both sides of the circle. Two words: Neat. O.

Next tutorial, I think we'll add some more colours and play with some programs using layers. Any questions? Requests?
Let me know!

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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: 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!


- - - - - - - -
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 ***

Interview at Extreme Biology

An interview with yours truly, conducted by Melina of the Extreme Biology blog has gone up. Extreme Biology is a high school biology class blog run by Miss Baker. who teaches in the North Eastern U.S. The students will also be attending the upcoming Science Online 2010 in January, and I hope to shake hands with the interviewer!
I dunno though. Sometimes I wonder if listening to an artist is like listening to one of those Eighties hair-metal bands talk about their music. Hopefully I made more sense.
(Thanks Melina and Miss Baker!)
- - - - - - - -
Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

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

The “that’s right people, I’m an artist, but I do science-y art and it’s cool” badge.

Aww, thanks Jason! (see below)

Art Monday: Anthropometry

Anthropometry

Close up of left side: Close up of right side:Click each to enlarge.

The text on the right hand glove says:

"It follows also, that no vain or selfish person can possibly paint, in the noble sense of the word."
-from Modern Painters by John Ruskin Vol.5, E.P. Dutton & Co. (no date on colophon) .

"When the pupils can make from the figure rapid pencil sketches showing good action and good proportion, they may be allowed to indicate the features in a very simple way. "
-from the Ontario Teachers' Manuals: Art, Toronto, William Briggs, 1916, 1918 edition.


The assignment was to discuss sexuality, body image, eroticism, beauty or any combination of these. I decided to go for body image and perfection from a different angle.
Anthropometry seemed appropriate.

After some discussion with
Felice Frankel about our upcoming ScienceOnline2010 session, my mind has been ticking about the way scientific visualizations and scientific illustrations create their own standards, holotypes and "perfect" images, as well as how artists have done the same. From da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, to laws of the body being 7.5 heads high (or whatever), artists have been using these semi-arbitrary rules for perfect drawing for as long as there has been clay and fingers to smudge it with.

India Ink, pencil, and sanguine brush marker drawing on hygienic latex gloves. Glued to stretcher bars and backlit. Copyright Glendon Mellow 2009.

Some of the rough work can be seen here.


- - - - - - - -

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