Saturday, March 28, 2015

Naturalist images as art medium

Jackie Sones at Bodega Bay creates compound image mosaics using photographs of the reserve.

"When the final rendering was revealed, I wasn't sure what to think at first, with my eye surrounded by lots of figures and text, along with all of the plants and animals and landscapes and seascapes. Then I thought that it was quite appropriate. I'm always looking for interesting things, trying to learn more about them, and thinking about the best ways to share information. This isn't a bad visual representation of that process!"

Check out more images on her blog.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ecological Reflections-NSF 2013 Meeting Notes

Download brochure.

Ecological Reflections Program of Arts-Humanities-Science Collaborations
 at Sites of Long-Term Ecological Inquiry
Notes from May 9, 2013 Meeting at NSF

Notes from the May 9, 2013, meeting at NSF hosted by Saran Twombly plus additional perspectives from recent email from NEA about May Events, SEAD (Network for Sciences, Engineering, Arts, and Design), and ArtWorks grants; plus some cruising of agency webpages.  Consequently, these notes contain some perspectives that were not articulated at the May 9 meeting.

Meeting attendees: 
NSF:  Saran Twombly, Penny Firth, Gayle Pugh
NEA:  Bill O’Brien, Margaret Glass (museums)
NEH:  Eva Caldera
US Forest Service/Research: Mark Twery, Fred Swanson
Botanical Society (and scientific societies in general):  Claire Hemingway
CAISE:  Jamie Bell

Background:  Fred reviewed status of the ca. 20 site/program Ecological Reflections network ( of place-based, long-view arts-humanities-science collaborations: general contexts of them, current diversity of activities at site and network scales, objectives, funding needs to sustain and advance programs at the site and network scales, funding agency considerations (e.g., 1.) what sources of funds are available to meet the various needs; 2.) does the Reflections program seek funding need-by-need for appropriate agency sources or can a larger program be defined and funded as a package by multiple sources?).

Engaging the arts in field station collections

From the Florida Museum of Art and Culture:
"Science Bugs celebrates local ecology and research by exploring insects using three kinds of representation. 
Tim Lethbridge’s photography captures moments of insects “in the field,” giving us a glimpse into their lives and ecological roles. 
Dustin Angell’s studio-like photographic portraits offer an intimate view of specimens from scientific collections, highlighting the structures of their bodies and the scientific research related to them. 
Dr. Mark Deyrup’s scientific drawings of insects reveal the defining traits of species, and show how entomologists need standardized and highly detailed depictions of insects. 
Through these three artists, Science Bugs gives viewers a look at an important part of ecology as well as the methods of how insects are studied."
Archbold Biological Field Station provided the insect specimens.

Update from Hilary:

"and even better

Our education coordinator took the startling black photos – Dustin Angell and our bug biologist Mark did the drawings – so cool


Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy

Clearly, science influences culture. Field science has had an incredibly powerful and controversial influence in the age of climate change.

Here's an interesting paper on the changing arts funding landscape by Holly Sidford.

It is a call to reach out in unconventional directions, pointing out that, "Current arts grantmaking disregards large segments of cultural practice, and by doing so, it disregards large segments of our society."

This sounds like the same impetus that is driving field science to engage with art from the other direction.

The paper also includes an excellent defense of art:
"Culture and the arts are essential means by which all people explain their experience, shape their identity and imagine the future. In their constancy and their variety, culture and the arts allow us to explore our individual humanity, and to see our society whole. People need the arts to make sense of their lives, to know who they are. But our democracy needs the arts, too. The arts animate civil society. They stretch our imagination. They increase our compassion for others by providing creative ways for us to understand and deal with differences. The arts protect and enrich the liberty, the human dignity and the public discourse that are at the heart of a healthy democracy."


"Across sectors, artists and arts organizations are increasingly being called upon to activate the social imagination to bring forth new ways to know and understand an increasingly complex world. Artists are providing a critical lens that educates, provokes, and holds a mirror to society, influencing what gets attention in the public sphere and shaping perspective and opinion. Arts and culture are engaging communities in creative process and social action, broadening who has voice and offering a connecting point to those who have not felt power in the civic realm before."

Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking is a paper from the Animating Democracy program of Americans for the Arts, by Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon.
"Focusing on grantmaking in the United States, the report aims to characterize the nature of support from both private and public sectors. It examines how various grantmakers think about social change in the context of agency goals and what outcomes they are looking for through their support. The report looks at the types of activities and projects that are being funded as well as grantmaking strategies and structures. It documents obstacles and opportunities for greater support, considering both funders who are and are not supporting this work."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Steps to an Ecology of Networked Knowledge and Innovation

SEAD's excellent 2011 global study and report on art/science collaboration is now in print, thanks to MIT Press.

Art that sparks science questions

Some of us are looking for examples of art that precedes and sparks science.

Demonstrations of the opposite are easier to find, given that they result in an obvious artwork, and artists tend to discuss their motivations and influences more than scientists do.

As examples, see the previous post about the movie Interstellar, the discovery of accurate turbulence in Van Gogh's "Starry Night", Ed Belbruno's use of painting to discover natural phenomenon he then describes mathematically, and this fascinating documentary segment from CERN about photography:

The Invisible Photograph: Part 5 (Subatomic) from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.

I'd also propose this interesting bit that went around a few years back. it discussed how the CGI animators for the Lord of the Rings movies battle sequences were having trouble because they programmed their characters with AI (essentially, free-will) in order to avoid the artificial look of pre-programmed animation behavior.

Unfortunately for the animators, the characters wisely chose to run away rather than fight! As it turns out, this was apparently a bug in the software, but it triggered some intense discussion about the science of behavior, artificial intelligence, emergent properties, and the fight or flight response.


...I was showing them a book form, a pleated structure that sort of rotated around on itself, and this guy stood up and said, ‘That’s it!’ He had been working on something called an autophagosome, which has a double cell membrane and rotates around on itself during cellular division.” (’s like a temporary garbage truck that delivers cell waste to a lysosome, so that waste can be broken down) “He’d been trying for years to to visually depict how it moves. He could see it in his head, but couldn’t get it as a flat image to show his students. My book form moved the way forward.”
"Scientific thinking is almost synonymous with recognizing and forming patterns. Every hypothesis and theory is the discovery of a pattern within some set of observations. For this reason, artists, choreographers, and musicians, whose works invariably invent and play with patterns, have a great deal to teach scientists (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

The father of the famous physicist Richard Feynman clearly understood this connection. He introduced his son to patterning games very much like those taught at such art schools as the Bauhaus when the boy was still a toddler. One of those games involved colored tiles like those used to make mosaics. Feynman senior would start a pattern and see whether Richard could finish it. Soon the boy was making up his own patterns and yet another pattern was set in motion (Feynman, 1988). As an adult, Richard Feynman discovered many new patterns in physics, which later won him a Nobel Prize.

Ned Seeman, one of the founders of the new science of nanotechnology (the making of functional objects out of molecule-sized materials), was similarly inspired by M. C. Escher’s patterns. Stumped by a problem concerning ways to make cubic structures out of DNA, Seeman realized that an Escher print that pictured a school of fish-like creatures swimming in three dimensions provided the solution (Nadrian Seeman, n.d.). Seeman now studies artists’ patterns explicitly for their insights into the processes of making structures (Seeman,in press).

Other scientists have also looked to the work of artists—or used their expressive forms—to hunt for clues to hidden patterns. Physicists, for instance, have worked with choreographers to illuminate the movement patterns of electrons; microbiologists have squaredanced their way through the processes of gene regulation. Some educators have likewise used creative movement in the science classroom. Witness Zafra Lerman’s work teaching chemistry through dance and theater."