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Archive for the ‘art and science’ tag

Science and Art- an Inseparable Marriage of Equals

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In Nature, in 1887, University of Pennsylvania Professor T.H. Huxely stated  “I imagine that it is the business of the artist and of the man of letters to reproduce and fix forms of imagination to which the mind will afterwards recur with pleasure; so, based upon the same great principle by the same instinct, if I may so call it, it is the business of the man of science to symbolize, and fix, and represent to our mind in some easily recallable shape, the order, and the symmetry, and the beauty that prevail throughout Nature.”

It is an interesting concept to think about – the artist as a scientist and the scientist as an artist.  Since the time when both fields of study were formally identified, they have been closely linked to one another, yet when viewed in modern society, it is so easy for us to separate the two. Sure, we can see how science and art intersect when discussing chemical compositions of oil based paints (lead poisoning anyone?) and light refraction on photographic lenses, but what about the more high concept of the reciprocal nature of science and art? Is one the muse of the other, and if so, which came first?  It might be easy to argue that ‘of course science came first- science is all around, and it is the beauty of nature and discovery that brings forth artistic inspiration, but what if it is the artistic influence of our surroundings that inspire the quest for exploration and discovery?

Philosophical quandries such as these are not meant to be solved with a simple Beet Street blog, but it is interesting to think about it from different perspectives.  Todd Siler, a prominent contemporary artist who’s work in based in the art/science realm has this opinion on the matter:

“The messages of this art are basic.  The universe imparts its creative processes to us.  We, in turn, impart our creative processes to the things we create. Our creations reveal the nature of our minds directly and so the universe indirectly.  This is the great current of influences that changes our lives.  The playful, purposeful work of neurocosmology is to venture into this ocean current with at least one premise:  in decoding the brain, we decode the universe—and vice versa. In many ways, the brain is what the brain creates.  Its workings reflect the workings of all its creations.”

With a doctoral degree from MIT and his art displayed at both the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Todd Siler is certainly a qualified source for opinions on the origination of art in relation to how the brain processes our interpretation of color and shape.  Much similar to T.H. Huxely’s opinion in 1887, Siler sees it as the artists job to create pieces that challenge the brain’s interpretation of visual stimuli just as much as he is challenged artistically by the complexity of the brain,  most of the time – literally. 

Currently Siler’s work can be seen at the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art in his exhibition entitled, The Mind and All It Creates. Installed in the museum’s Main Gallery, Silers work explores how the brain works by looking comparatively at the creative outcomes of the brain’s complex processes. Works from a variety of periods in Siler’s career are included in The Mind and All It Creates.  Siler’s Mind Icons, dating from the early 1990’s, are visual meditations on the life of the intellect and spirit set into shapes that resemble the human brain.  Also included will be selections from Siler’s totemic photo-metaphorms that visually compress ideas and images printed on the upwardly twisting metal sculptures.  In paintings such as The ArtScience of Grasping Synapses, 2000-2004, Siler offers an artistic, imaginative rendition of a brain synapse that expresses the explosive, energetic activity that takes place constantly in the brain.


Science and art – it  is such a joint relationship, divorcing one side from the other just isn’t possible. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, it can’t be argued that without a muse, neither would exist as we know it today.


More information on Todd Siler can be found on the web at:

Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art
201 S. College Ave. Fort Collins, CO

FCMOCA hours:
10-5 Tuesday through Friday;
12 to 5 on Saturday;
Closed Sunday and Monday.

Admission fees:
$5.00 adults,
$2.00 seniors over 65.
Free to museum members, students and children under 18.

Todd Siler will also be joining Beet Street for a very special edition of Science Café on March 10th.  Location and details coming soon.

Creativity and Scientific Community

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” all our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions.” Leonardo da Vinci.

Creative people, be they focused in arts, science or both, are grounded in synesthesia or a synergy of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting and sensing things. To create is to extend knowledge, rough up the edges of a form, send practices in new and divergent directions. Creativity, creating minds and creative people remind us to focus on how we relate to each other, carry out our work and contribute as citizens. It’s about the process. Like scientists who conduct many experiments around a single problem, artists often work in series, completing variations around a theme until the artists feels she has exhausted the idea for a while. Revisiting, revising and rethinking are part of an authentic creative experience, as is generating many ideas then choosing among competing priorities.

These processes of revisiting, revising and rethinking are community processes. Like artists who form studios and collectives such as those involved with CoCOA, scientists form research teams and laboratories. The creation of scientific knowledge as laid out by Thoman Kuhn, is dependent on the culture and historical circumstances of groups of scientists rather than on their adherence to a specific, definable method. In describing scientific knowledge this way, Kuhn argued for a blurring of the boundaries between what was considered science and what was not, arguing that there was no such thing as the idealized scientific method. His position was contentious and ignited the scientific community in fierce debates over the nature of their collective enterprise, but also hinted at what a lot of modern and postmodern philosophers now argue, that our creative products like our creative selves, are deeply infused with the contexts and the communities in which we exist.

Over the last few months we have discussed the importance of art in public life, from its ability to communicate place, to its ability to transcend our individual differences and touch the divine human spirit in all of us. Yet it is rare for us to talk about science in the same way. In many ways, ‘art’ and ‘science’ have become separated in our imagination, set against each other as opposite competing poles in ourselves, our minds, our schools, our occupations and our communities. Our capacity to institutionally encapsulate both of them however, (with different intents — one to preserve access and the other to reserve access), lies in common. We create art museums and natural science museums in the interests of educating and serving the public but what if we were to take an ‘art in public places’ approach to science? What would that begin to look like? Moreover, what if we were to recognize the science that lies behind the artist’s ability in terms of technique and the artistry that lies in the scientific life, in terms of creative possibilities? How might our ways of understanding these immensely consequential realms of human activity change?

Here in Colorado, we are lucky enough to have monthly gatherings where we can explore these issues of science, creativity and community process. Science cafés or ‘Cafés Scientifiques’ meet regularly in Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder and right here in Fort Collins. The first Cafés were held in Leeds, England in 1998. From there, the idea spread to other parts of Europe, North Africa, North and South America, South Asia, Australia, and the Pacific ( In all these places across the globe, diverse audiences regularly gather to join scientists and writers in discussions that are designed as forums for debating science issues, promoting public engagement with science and making science accountable. Participants meet in cafes, bars, restaurants and other public locations to make scientific discussions accessible and lively. If you’re thinking that a science discussion requires an academic science background, that’s not the point. Many questions and ideas are entertained at the Café Scientifique and people who are not specialists often provide thoughtful perspectives and insight. Gatherings take place to foster an atmosphere where “no question is considered stupid” and science is brought out of the lab and into the public arena for deliberation.

It’s about the creative process!

Thanks for the photos fernandoprats, Wid-78 and jvnunag

Deborah Lombard

Imagination gives you the picture!

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I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Albert Einstein

The fewer expectations you have, the better.
Laurie Anderson

Although we often separate art and science as distinct pursuits, innovative art and science are connected by the process of creative imagination.  Throughout history, human imagination has consistently stretched the question of “why?” into the realm of “why not?” and in the process, adjusted our very concepts of reality.  However you define it, Imagination, involves the process of reorganizing what we think we know.  It’s the ability to question and risk seeing something outside the boundaries of what is “supposed,” to be—the rearranging of variables in new ways!  Collectively, we often imagine someone like Albert Einstein, with his signature tousled hair, as a genius for his construction of knowledge and contributions to physics.  Einstein published over 300 hundred scientific works, (and more than 150 non-scientific ones)—no small feat—he also said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” 

Another innovative thinker, Carl Sagan said, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”  Where has your imagination taken you lately?  This weekend you don’t have to physically travel very far to explore new possibilities, and stretch your imagination.  At the free Beet Street Imagination Fair, downtown, Fort Collins, (June 5, 5-9 p.m.) you can experience performances and demonstrations that explode the boundaries of science and technology, art and music!  This month’s First Friday Gallery Walk (the monthly, evening, opportunity to explore the visual art offerings in Old Town) has an added performance dimension where cutting edge technology meets artistic expression.

On Saturday, at the Oak Street Plaza, Christopher “C3” Cardone demonstrates that becoming an accomplished musician is not a destination, but the ticket to musically travel even further.  He builds his own instruments to create an amazing range of sounds and rhythms.  Don’t miss your opportunity to journey to his corner of the universe—you never know what will be included in his performance!   Later, That 1 Guy, aka Mike Silverman, will continue to push the limits of making music.  Silverman, a classically trained upright bassist, imagined and engineered a bass out of electronically wired steel plumbing in an effort to find the perfect sound.  You’re invited to hear his solutions!

At Opera Galleria (123 North College), event partner, Discovery Science Center, Colorado’s NASA link site, will showcase NASA exhibits and “hands-on” activities.  You can also see award-winning student science fair exhibits.  The Poudre School District’s Alpine Robotics Team 159 (students from Poudre High School, Lincoln and Preston Junior Highs) will demonstrate their robotic inventions, and the CSU Engines and Energy Conservation Laboratory will showcase their low cost, high-performance cookstoves, engineered for the developing world. Imagine that!  Kids of all ages are also invited to not only listen but “play” Laser Harps with traditional harp strings replaced by laser strings.  The harps were designed so that large groups can play simultaneously, using interactive movement, dance, and light to trigger sound. The result?  A visual and musical performance you won’t forget!  Impact Dance Company will also join in for special collaborative performances at 5:30pm, 6:30pm, 7:30pm, 8:30pm.

Then on Saturday evening, creative pioneer, visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, electronics whiz, vocalist, and instrumentalist Laurie Anderson will be in Fort Collins to follow the Imagination Fair.  Get your ticket to be transported by her Burning Leaves: A Retrospective, Songs and Stories 2009 at the Lincoln Center box office. Anderson, a self proclaimed “techno-geek,” spins offbeat adventure stories, in an intimate evening of voice, electronics and violin.  Her songs and stories include pieces from her acclaimed solo shows The Speed of Darkness, Happiness, The End of the Moon, and Homeland.  Among many accomplishments, in 2002, Anderson was appointed the first artist-in-residence of NASA—and you can hear some of her avant-garde interpretation of her adventures into that great unknown.  Don’t be surprised if her surreal melodies and your imagination sweep you off on an unexpected trip!

Nothing happens without a start as a dream.

Thanks for the photos Don Solo and Jorge Barahona

Deborah Lombard