Disciplines Exchange Ideas on Art, Controversy, & Science

Sculptor Marilene Oliver uses MRI, PET, and CT scanning to create her works.

Last week I traveled to the Canadian Rockies to participate in a unique workshop organized by the University at Alberta that focused on the shared perspectives and collaborations among artists, scientists, ethicists, and social scientists. The workshop was the second in a series organized by brothers Sean Caulfield and Timothy Caulfield, professors of Art and Law respectively at the University of Alberta.

In 2009, the first workshop resulted in the "Imagining Science" exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta and a book by the same title. The critically acclaimed initiative highlighted the emerging genre of "bio art," which Tim Caulfield in his contribution to the award-winning book describes as "a field of artistic inquiry that both utilizes the techniques of biotechnology and serves as a medium of reflection on the societal implications of the research."

As Catherine Crowston, Chief Curator of the Art Gallery of Alberta wrote in the preface to Imagining Science, artistic works "do not provide explanations of science itself. They do not provide explanations or justifications for sciences and its infinite areas of research and investigation. Instead they are reflections, critiques, musings and semblances. They are not about fact per se, but about experience, interpretation and contemplation. They engage us with the possibility of their ideas and images, and leave us to decide what we will learn from them.

Despite the important function of artists relative to science, there is an unfortunate tendency to think about this relationship in terms of "two cultures" divided. This metaphor has come to dominate discourse about science and society more generally. Yet at the workshop, between the artists and scientists gathered, I couldn't help but recognize the obvious parallels in outlook and professional practice.

Art and science as disciplines offer methods to understand and discover the world. Scientists and artists through their work are both challenged to communicate to others what they observe about nature or about society. To do so, each profession is trained in specific tools and methods, draw upon discipline-specific theory, engage in collaboration across professional networks, are publicly funded and supported, engage in both "basic" art or research or applied work (in the case of art, advertising or design), and are peer-reviewed or juried by other experts. Artists, like scientists, are also limited by natural laws particularly light and perspective, often deal with issues of privacy and the ethical use of subjects, and both groups are deeply concerned by the need for public understanding and appreciation for their profession.

In my own presentation last week at the workshop, I spotlighted the relationship between film and television portrayals of science and their influence on audiences. You can read some of my thoughts on the topic in this separate post.

The most recent workshop is intended to serve as the foundation for a forthcoming exhibit at the Glennbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta and a second book. I will blog details when they become available.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Wealth inequality is literally killing us. The economy should work for everyone.

This economy has us in survival mode, stressing out our bodies and minds.

  • Economic hardship is linked to physical and psychological illness, resulting in added healthcare expenses people can't afford.
  • The gig economy – think Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Handy – is marketed as a 'be your own boss' revolution, but it can be dehumanizing and dangerous; every worker is disposable.
  • The cooperative business model can help reverse wealth inequality.
Keep reading Show less

The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
Keep reading Show less

People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

Mind & Brain
  • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
  • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
  • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
Keep reading Show less