Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Criteria for science inspired art shows, projects and exhibitions

An art lecturer in the US has sent me a message recently. The message said:  Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa, I am designing a university art show: "Art Inspired by Science", to encourage students, professors and researchers to share their work through the lens of art. I am in the process of writing the criteria in order to have a wide net and still keep a high bar for real art. If you have any suggestions for criteria from your project, I would appreciate your insights.

As a reply to her message, I wrote this blog so that others too can think about these things while organizing shows because several people from India too are asking me to guide them.

My reply: Thank you for asking for my insights. I am glad you are organizing a science -art show.

Science and art are like oil and water and you need special skills to mix them. Sci-artists are like emulsifiers with special skills facilitating this union. If you don't have these skills you will fail to do justice to your subject. It is a little bit difficult and different to create real art works based on science themes.
To set criteria, first of all both the organizers and artists should be very clear why they want to do science based art shows and works.
To build bridges? To communicate science? Just to experiment with a new theme or a tool? Just because of mimetic effect - as everybody else in the world is doing, they too want to do it? Because they love science and got inspired by it?

Purposes of creating and organizing shows of science-art: ( )

To communicate science accurately to a lay man.

To show the aesthetic values of science to the general public.

To show science in a new light to generate a thought process among the people of the scientific community.

To build bridges between the fields of science and art and bring them together.

Once an artist or an organizer decides why s/he wants to do a science based art work/show automatically the standards are set.

There are various types of science based art. You can see the list here:

So having different categories for different purposes is the best way to organize a science-based art show.

Art standards and science theme will never be compromised in a good work of science based art. If people want to copy from science text books or lab specimens or photos published on internet, they can do that without any difficulty. Some artists do this as it is the easiest way to claim that they too can create sci-art! But merely bringing lab specimens into art galleries is not creativity. Just changing places won't make a science specimen a work of art! Just copying from science text books doesn't give the work the "science based art " tag. Can science illustration become *art* just by transferring it from book pages to canvases? This is just wishful thinking!

So 'culturizing' science in the right way is very important . Balancing science and art in equal ways is important too during this process. If the balance is tilted more towards science, they look like science text book pictures and art world might have reservations in accepting them as creative works of art. If they tilt more towards art, science themes lose their significance. Science based art should be created without compromising science communication and artistic values which should be acceptable to both the communities as the right approach. And the science part of art should be kept simple for people to understand the theme in a better way. Clarity in both thought and presentation is one of the very important aspects of science based art.

Even if artists are "only" engaging in art, art has an obvious science policy message — indeed, one that you invite — you have some obligation to be clear about how "speculative" your art is. But when artists decide to move from the world of art into the world of science, they really have a strong duty to be very clear about what their work does and does not mean (Ref1).

In science inspired art, artists need not present the exact science-like forms. They can make a few modifications to present in an artistic way but attempts should not be made to twist the facts and truths. That won't be science-art if they do that - it might become science fiction! Modifications must be limited to only artistic presentations and facts should not be touched.

A Science communication work need not be just science illustration. It can be a real art work too! Art can show things differently while communicating the message exactly. Artists can experiment with the message conveyers, pictures, environments in which the message is being conveyed while conveying the theme without changing the science part of it. ( )

I don't recommend abstract way of creating works while dealing with science subjects because the world of science doesn't appreciate nonsense and chaos. If the artists choose to present science themes in abstract forms, they should have the confidence to convince the world that they are genuinely science - based and therefore science should clearly reflect in their works. So show organizers should state this clearly:  When art is used for science communication, abstraction makes it vague and confusing and doesn't convey the message properly. When the idea is about showing aesthetics in science, then it is okay to use abstract way of representation.

It is this understanding of the purpose of creating science based art and various categories of science-art is what drives me to judge works accordingly and make analyses and review the science-art projects.  Critics, judges and reviewers  should first learn all about various categories in science related art , try to distinguish one from the other and judge the works based on these criteria. They should not criticize sci-art works using the parameters of ‘standard art’ which would severely demoralize the artists who are trying to venture into the world of science. The curators, judges and critics  should have thorough knowledge in both science and art. One subject specialists can have only partial views and therefore cannot do full justice to 'understanding' works properly. You can read here why:

Therefore, the organizers should take help from specialists in both the subjects while doing a science based art show.

All the best to you


Ref 1:

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Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on August 15, 2013 at 7:08am

Yes, for laymen, you have to explain things to understand. Otherwise it would look like just abstract art. Do you remember, Dr. Avi, the first time I commented on your work? When I saw your work then, I looked at it like an artist and thought, hey, where is science in it? Then when as a person of science, when I saw it, it looked differently. That was why I asked you to add a little description for people to understand the concept and science of it..People would look at things from a different aspect to that of yours. People will get puzzled like Mr. Sutterby.
Sometime back One of the artists on my network invited me to see his 'science-art' on his online art gallery. When I visited his gallery, I was shocked. There were just dots, lines and patterns and nothing else. But the artist gave interesting titles like ' Physics art' , 'Biology art" etc. Will dots and lines become Physics and Biology? I wrote an article on this and posted on my network.
I read these words sometime back: Even if artists are "only" engaging in art, art has an obvious science policy message — indeed, one that you invite — you have some obligation to be clear about how "speculative" your art is. But when artists decide to move from the world of art into the world of science ( or scientists from science to art), they really have a strong duty to be very clear about what their work does and does not mean. And they should be able to convince the world about it.
Now Dr. Avi, I am sure you want to show just the aesthetics of science, therefore you can use abstraction as a tool.

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on July 11, 2013 at 5:59am

stimulate interest, excitement and debate about biomedical science through high-quality, original artistic practice
examine the social, cultural and ethical contexts of biomedical science through the arts
encourage new ways of thinking
promote high-quality interdisciplinary practice and collaborations between arts, science and education practice
support formal and informal learning.

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on June 6, 2013 at 7:16am




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