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

What scientists should be cautious about during the interactions with artists


The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best -- and therefore never scrutinize or question. -Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, biologist, author (1941-2002)

Scientists and artists are coming together very frequently these days because of the sci-art interactions. And as a keen observer of these interactions I find some strange things happening. I want to bring these observations before the world of science so that it takes measures to stop science from losing its own identity because of these interactions.

First read another of my blog here to understand this one better.

I feel when people around you say a thing over and over again, you tend to think that it is true and actually start believing it is true ( that is what advertising is all about). I think this is happening in the science-art arena too. When artists say over and over again they can advance science with art ( especially at the research level), even scientists are starting to believe in it and I have seen scientists too parroting the same words! This is what scientists should be cautious about and I am worried about. They should not lose their identity as scientists and forget the rules of science when they interact with artists. They should not lose their reasoning power and ability to question things. They should not forget to draw the lines between various fields. They should not play it safe.

Another example I want to give is the Wellcome Trust's report (1) where scientists who participated in their projects said 'after interacting with artists they are prepared to take more risks'! This really stumped me. Because I was told several times and brought up with the idea that "Scientists are the people who boldly go to places where no man has ever gone before!" Scientists are people who always took great risks including the ones to their own lives!(20)

Who took risks to go into space (22)? Who took risks to go to the moon? Who are now taking risks now to go to the Mars? Who took risks to go deep into the seas to study the ecosystems, biology, metallurgy and undersea volcanoes? Who are working in the Antarctica despite all the risks? Why do volcanologists take so many risks to go near active volcanoes and sometimes get killed? I have seen Microbiologists in our labs taking risks while working with dangerous microbes. I have seen one of my friends, who is a scientist in chemical technology and experimenting with a new chemical, burning both his hands severely when the new chemical exploded in his hands with the result that doctors amputated two of his fingers! I myself had caused two fire accidents in my lab and got a warning from my boss. But still I went ahead with my experiment and succeeded the third time and got a pat on my back from the same boss who warned me earlier! Who are the people who go deep into the earth, underground caves, deep jungles in the name of science? I have seen people working with high voltage electricity, nuclear technology (23) etc. which again pose great risk to people who work with them. You will find a list of scientists who took risks and were killed by their own work here: scientists-who-were-killed-by-their-own-experiments

Watch this video that proves the same!

In her article "Would A Scientist Survive The Zombie Apocalypse?", Alice Ly, a scientist, says scientists have " Nerves of Steel" : From steady scientific hands, we move onto scientific nerves of steel. A typical lab-based scientist will have to do all manner of dangerous and difficult tasks as part of their daily work. Be near powerful magnets and lasers? Not a problem. Handling hazardous chemicals? Piece of cake. When the time comes to have to stare down our fear of mice and put our hand into the cage, it will be done (25).
So, where is the problem?

Are scientists afraid of failures and therefore are unable to take risks? Each and every scientist knows failure is a part of scientific research. Very few scientists succeed in their first attempts. This is because they always tread on new grounds and with untested and unsafe new methods. Edison failed several times and actually said when asked how he felt about his failures, " I have learned how I cannot make a bulb in 999 ways"! Scientists are people who always took risks sometimes calculated and sometimes unintended ones. Then what are these scientists who worked with the artists talking about? Maybe they are talking about the risks they are now taking in saying things which are untested and untried as truth like others! Bad for science!

Some scientists - mimicking the artists - are arguing that if scientists embrace the culture, they would be able to communicate science in a better way because by understanding it, you can connect with people more closely(21). I want to ask them here and now - can't a scientist who was born into and grew up in a culture understand it as well as any artist can?  Or as well as  any other person  of humanities can? This is just like saying scientists are dumb and cannot comprehend the culture they are familiar with and therefore can't deal with cultural conditioning of the minds of the people around them. This argument really is rubbish and it is like insulting science and scientists! Become better communicators using scientific methods. Science is not inferior to art in the communicating process - just remove the complicated jargon. Connect with people in the right way! That is enough.

As a promoter of science-art interactions I am embarrassed to hear from several scientists that told me that the free advises artists and science-artists come up with to give to scientists as if the latter were really dumb was quite sickening. I wouldn’t be where I am and do what I do if I didn’t believe that arts and literature and the study of them have an important role in the world, but most of the counselling people offer is maddening to me as well. They’re completely vague, or make empty claims about “big questions” and “critical thinking” (as if these are not properties of science). Undoubtedly people who indulge in these things know nothing about the practice of science. They purport to be defending “the humanities” from attacks, but mostly just pander to the sensibilities of an educated elite who already agree with them. But this will increase a void between art and science more. Scientists who are indulging in repeating what artists say should be more cautious about this.

While bringing artists into labs, scientists should also take care to see that the artists understand fully what they are dealing with. They say half knowledge is always dangerous. Scientists should not leave things to artists alone. They should supervise everything during collaborations. I feel this is important especially in Bio-art related activities (6). Scientists should not leave live organisms, most importantly live microbes which could cause harm to the people outside with artists. Unlimited artistic freedom is a dangerous thing. Some artists argued with me that there should not be any restrictions during collaborations and artists should have freedom to do whatever they want to do which I think is a very absurd thing to say. These artists don't understand fully the consequences of their actions. There are controversies (19) regarding what scientists themselves are trying to do with regard to science-art .

And some scientists because of their attachment to sci-art are unable to see things clearly and are taking the parameters of art to see things. For instance they are saying things like 'art could have helped the scientists' , 'music might have helped the Nobel laureates' ! The words 'could have and might have' are perception and belief based ones and are usually used by the art world. Proof based words would be 'is/are responsible' , 'has/have helped' . These are the words the scientists should be using after thorough and full proof verification!

 A few scientists are promoting science-art by using the words " I believe this is true " instead of "this has been proved correct" (4)! Yes, when a scientist says such things, ordinary people usually believe them! But a true scientist knows 'belief' has no place in science! Only truth can survive in the tough world of science. "Believe" is a word  scientists should use rarely and only with great care. To believe something is to accept it on faith without evidence or logical explanation. This is completely contrary to the scientific method and fundamental principals of science. It is possible for a scientist to be aware and to understand and to seek knowledge but belief is best left to the artists, philosophers and the theologians.

Strict old-style boundaries like the ones assumed to exist between art and science are eroding, according to some artists, and traditional dichotomies such as intellect versus emotion, reason versus intuition, and the poetic versus practical, are becoming less distinct under the influence of unprecedented communication networks and analytical tools that revealing higher resolution and greater clarity the complex layers of things and ideas (7).
Are they? I think this is just a wishful thinking because I see no evidence of such things happening in the field of science, not yet!. If this truly happens in science because of science-art interactions, it is really bad for science. Because intellect, reason and practical are the life lines of science. If they are cut, science doesn't exist at all! And emotions and intuitions are not at all good for science!

After interacting with artists for six years one scientist said(17) : "The interaction with artists reminded me that science provides only one of many valid ways of “knowing” the natural world. While this may sound more humbling than useful, it has provided me opportunities for talking science with groups whose primary connection to nature is more sensory, intuitive, or spiritual than it is intellectual."
Instead of making people realize the scientific way of understanding nature which is more closer to truth, he went their way of understanding it! It is up to him to do whatever he wants to do. But if he says intuition  is a valid way of understanding things something is wrong with the way he approaches  science! That is what scientists should be cautious about! They are starting to believe in 'alternate ways ' of understanding the world as valid too instead of scientific way of doing it after interacting with artists! Surprised to hear this from a scientist!

Contrary to what artists think and say, Science  already  has  in built- what the artists call- 'aspects of art' - like creativity, observing, imagination, visualization, imaging, pattern recognition, pattern invention analogizing, dimensional thinking, transforming data into visual and graphic forms, converting theories  into mechanical procedures etc. Scientists have been using  all these things successfully since ages (8)! They need not learn these things again from the artists. What are science-illustrations, X-ray and MRI images, satellite images[10], PET- CT scans[11], angiograms ( processes that allow doctors to view the flow of blood in blood vessels [9]), 3-D mapping (13) and 3-D printing?

All scientists know that 'scientific visualization' is one of the important aspects of the field of science. The purpose of scientific visualization is to graphically illustrate scientific data to enable scientists to understand, illustrate, and glean insight from their data. Data visualization (16) is the study of the visual representation of data, meaning "information that has been abstracted in some schematic form, including attributes or variables for the units of information". The main goal of data visualization is to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical means.  Scientists apply their taste in visual aesthetics to their visual displays of data as do artists, as in the case of a scientist who carefully selects colors or arranges forms used in his/her design of a chip or rendered image. These are aesthetic decisions, signs that the scientist is to some degree thinking as does a visual artist. Although untrained in the processes, many of the best scientists frequently work from visual geometric models in their minds, and identify research problems on the basis of these visual models or paradigms. From the paradigm, the analysis and experiment is derived. This ability to pre-visualize a potential solution to a problem and to build 3 or 4-D (3-D plus time) conceptual models is basic to their scientific process. So, don't scientists know how to understand and proceed with their work and also communicate their hypotheses, observations and conclusions derived from it to the world outside? There is nothing new in this aspect (18) and what  artists are trying to say that art should become a part of science! Art is already a part of science!  In fact I never thought art as a different entity from science because of our education system until artists in the WEST tried to emphasize the importance of STEAM based education models! However, if artists want to make data visualization more easy and understandable to laymen and help in science communication, that would really be helpful. But I have seen some of the data getting lost in translation done by the artists in their experiments as a result people couldn't understand it properly and the pictures based on it failed to generate the questions they should have helped initiate (12). I feel this situation arose because the artists themselves failed to understand the scientific data  or don't have a grip on how to represent it and didn't take the help of scientists either to interpret it properly.

Read the article  on how scientists outshine arts students with experiments in creative writing here

What makes a good visualisation anyway? If you want to actually be able to understand and use your complex data, it needs to be penetrable but not absurdly simplified. Putting figures into a colourful pie chart may create a pleasing result but it's easy to pick style over substance and lose all meaning along the way (24). The answer, apparently according to some experts, is a lot more science than art! And they actually have pretty strong opinions on the right way to do these things. We are all familiar, for example, with red meaning bad, or green meaning good. Or are we? "A very common behaviour in visual analysis is using red or green, with red bad and green good. If the thing is green it means you're doing well, if it's red you're doing badly, or if the bar is small it's red and if it's big it's green. "The problem with that is that in Asia those colours have precisely the opposite meaning. In Asia it's red good and green bad. "It also turns out that red-green colour blindness is the most common form of colour blindness. If you're giving people a gradation between red and green to show difference, they often can't see that difference. So the visual cue which you've given them is useless."
The problem is not colour per se, however. That said, colour intensity is something we as human beings are very attuned to seeing. We perceive the intensity of the colour much more dramatically than the actual hue.
In some products, when you try and use colour as part of the visualisation, we will default to using colour intensity as the visual indicator of magnitude because we know that people see it more easily, perceive difference at a higher level and it doesn't create issues with colour blindness. The sources of these biases and preferences run deep. The science is rooted in the human being's perception and also biases. We tend to see patterns where they don't exist, we tend to see outliers very easily, we notice things that are off to the side. Good data visualisation is about exploiting these innate characteristics. All of these points about psychology and biology come back to innate differences about how our visual perception works, and it's rooted in evolutionary biases. As humans we're very attuned to differences in intensity in colour because it's useful in terms of foraging for berries and nuts and the sort of things we would have done. We are so attuned to motion because it almost inevitably results in a threat or opportunity: something's going to eat us or we're going to try and eat something. There are no value judgements; it's not good or bad, it just is. So the question is how do you take advantage of these things rather than ignore them and let them get in the way. So next time you have to think about communicating data visually, it might be worth to think in scientific terms, according to these experts!

Artistic studies are different from scientific research. In artistic studies, I have noted, speculation, beliefs and the opinion of the author plays a major role in coming to a conclusion. While scientific research and conclusions need proof beyond doubt. Most of the science-art papers are based on ‘artistic studies’ rather than ‘scientific research’ and therefore need not be true.

That is what I argue about. And I sometimes argue like a child with others. Behind these arguments there is this worry that science is losing its own identity in the sci-art arena which is a dangerous trend. Almost everybody in the sci-art arena now says artists and scientists think and work in the same way ( this assumption is based on the reports I read till now. I have given several links to the reports on the pages of sci-art news group and you can check them yourself). This is becoming the opening statement of each and every sci-artist -irrespective of the fields they come from- of their talks or write-ups. As a reporter of sci-art news on Art Lab, daily I read at least five statements like these and this is sickening me. A silent minority, although doesn't say it directly, is giving its consent indirectly by not speaking anything against it. I asked these people several times, if what they say is true why art and science have deviated from each another and evolved into two separate subjects instead of becoming one. It is true that there are some things the disciplines of art and science share. Here are some  words that resonate for both fields: creativity, research, observation, experimentation, discovery, collaboration, and innovation. But the difference between the fields lies in the way the work is done ( I found it very difficult to get adjusted to the art world because of these differences in the beginning). People just refuse to answer your genuine Qs and sometimes avoid your questions altogether because this suits them better. When you know that something is not true and when the whole world says it is true, you tend to go mad! Right now I am trying to keep my sanity and identity intact despite all this. There is a saying here: "If nobody comes with you after hearing to your call, go alone, but never deviate from what you believe is true. Ultimately it is the truth that triumphs". I am sure even science teaches us the same. The pioneers in science faced several difficulties but never deviated from their paths. Finally the world had no other go but to accept the facts. It is the scientists and their work who or what the world remembers and not their critics or tormentors. (: Whenever you find whole world against you just turn around and lead the world - Anonymous :)

I have listed ( and the list is very big!) the differences between art, literature and science based on my experiences and wrote an article and posted on Sci-Art Lab network group science art. I am still working on it and it takes some time for all the facts and points to come together. Without knowing the differences, it is difficult to understand why they were separated in the first place and how one can build bridges between them.

I think artistic creativity is fundamentally different from scientific creativity. Artist's depend mostly on "their thoughts, ideas, beliefs and personal views" for their work whereas scientists' base their work on natural laws and facts and how to fit their informed ideas into these laws to creatively invent or discover something. The imagination of a scientist is based on reality. A scientist has to get his imagination right to succeed  where as the artist need not do it right to move forward. In fact, the inadequacies of artists' imagination are what moves the art world forward! They are not the same like several people think and say. At the basic level some overlapping occurs but as you go deep into the subjects, the differences become very clear and I always wonder why people say both artists and scientists do things in similar ways like these ones in the references (2, 5,15). I think, people who are experts in only one field try to analyse things in other fields too such illusionary perceptions   arise. I will give an example here. When artists, writers and poets look at the moon they see it as a silver ball in the sky and describe it or paint it in this manner. I even read some stories where the crescent moon was described as a jewel in the hair of a God! This thinking reflects in their creativity ( metaphor and fiction). Now scientists think in terms of a rocky, dusty satellite that moves in space around the earth trapped in its gravity field when they think about the moon and they use their creativity to take the help of the gravity of the moon to accelerate space ships or change their course to send them to other planets to save fuel and time - the mechanism is called "gravity assist " (3) ( fact). Artists and poets even blamed scientists for disrupting their romantic ideas about moon by landing on it! Of course in some areas of science where there is inadequacy in terms of understanding and equipment to study things - like for example Astro-Physics and Theoretical Physics - some scientists might use metaphor and wild imaginations like artists do. But this is not the norm. If you take such examples and say all scientists do things similar to artists that becomes 'fallacy of composition'. In life sciences, for instance, if you want to know about shapes or structure of microbes, just take a microscope and see the fact with your own eyes or test a protein or enzyme in a test tube or in a petri-dish or a flask to know its function in reality! There is no use of metaphors here!

We use metaphors for descriptions - while communicating to others but not for conducting research. But these metaphors sometimes also take the shape of scientific jargon! Yes, we use some in-built aspects that are similar to art in science. But they have evolved along with scientific processes and methodology and took different route to take shape. We cannot equate both the processes. Even though Theoretical Physicists use wild imaginations and metaphors like artists do, they ultimately have to fit their thoughts into meaningful scientific formulas and equations that have to be proved some day. Otherwise they don't have any meaning at all! E = mc 2 would have become just a work of art like shown below had it not been analyzed thoroughly and scientifically and proved to be right over and over again!

An art installation

When artists stop after wondering about something based on their beliefs and imagining things, scientists actually go ahead and investigate and verify whether what they have imagined based on the information available at the time is correct or not. Unlike in art the creative act in science  generally results in finding a good and 'realistic' solution to a problem. So believe me when I say they don't do things in the same way. I have many personalities and as an artist I do things differently and when in my lab, I do things differently. As a writer and poet, I do things differently and I become a different person on AL network. As a designer I do things very differently. Long back I had drawn the lines between various fields I work in and I don't allow myself to cross these lines now so that I can efficiently do my work in different fields. I also feel one has to completely abandon one field and its parameters to go and work efficiently into another. I used to wonder whether there are any middle grounds, but couldn't find any that don't interfere with the existing ones. I also wonder whether anybody can show this in a new light!

Now some people who are promoting science art say, the two cultures discourse and the partitioning of creative work into art vs science maybe be a stumbling block to really understanding and supporting the new emerging practices.

But I feel as there is a fundamental difference between artistic creativity and the scientific creativity, I think artistic creativity actually creates problems while dealing with sciences because your personal emotions and views have no place in the scientific research. Everybody in the world of science have to obey natural laws and the rules of science. You have to be emotion free while doing research in science ( please read one of my articles here: - to understand better what I am trying to say). Just because you believe in something or think it is true ( on which artistic creativity depends) it doesn't become a fact ( on which scientific creativity depends). Beliefs and facts need not agree with each other! I actually see a clash here! And I don't think artistic creativity can help scientific creativity much unless artists too base their creativity on facts and truth. Art can help science students at the basic level. Art can also help in communicating science in a better way. Artists, like others, can show scientists to see things differently from their personal points of view. But to expect to do more to the scientific research without changing their way of thinking or reasoning based on personal attachments is expecting too much and just a wishful thinking! Then again when artists change their way of reasoning based on neutral and unattached approach that again becomes a scientific way of life! They have then crossed the line and went into the realm of science! They have become people of science and are not artists any more! Yes, artistic creativity can help science by changing its ways of operating and coming into the realm of facts by abandoning its fiction status and from dealing with sensational ideas to the developmental ones (14). You need a deep understanding of science to actually manipulate concepts in novel ways and get creative in science. Even though I am from the field of science, I never claim I can do something drastic like finding out something new in physics or chemistry because my field is microbiology! Unless I work closely with physicists or chemists, I know how difficult it is to do that! Unless a person that has talents in several fields is able to differentiate between them and overcome the difficulties and able to connect properly the ideas and thoughts and modify them to fruitfully evolve creative ideas, it is extremely difficult for artistic creativity to help science. Yes, Art can definitely 'promote' science. "Advance" is a controversial word! Both artists and scientists should keep these things in mind before venturing into the sci-art arena.

Doubt isn’t a weapon to be used until it slaughters all creative thoughts. It is a tool to help us avoid the very human instinct to believe what appears to be true, and what we wish to be true. Scientists, most of all, should know this.

Bertrand Russell: “Do not feel absolutely certain of anything. While doubt often comes across as a sign of weakness, it is also an effective defense mechanism, and it's an essential operating principle for science."          He also said: “Intellectual integrity made it quite impossible for me to accept the myths and dogmas of even very great scientists, more particularly of the belligerent and so-called advanced nations. Indeed, those intellectuals who accepted them were abdicating their functions for the joy of feeling themselves at one with the herd.”— Bertrand Russell 1872-1969.

Sci-art, yes. But science-art at the cost of science? Definitely a big 'NO'.

























Views: 2340


You need to be a member of SCI-ART LAB to add comments!


Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on April 13, 2013 at 7:00am

Strict old-style boundaries like the ones assumed to exist between art and science are eroding, according to some artists, and traditional dichotomies such as intellect versus emotion, reason versus intuition, and the poetic versus practical, are becoming less distinct under the influence of unprecedented communication networks and analytical tools that revealing higher resolution and greater clarity the complex layers of things and ideas (7).
Are they? I think this is just a wishful thinking because I see no evidence of such things happening in the field of science, not yet!. If this truly happens in science because of science-art interactions, it is really bad for science. Because intellect, reason and practical are the life lines of sci9ence. If they are cut, science diesn't exist at all! And emotions and intuitions are not at all good for science!

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on April 10, 2013 at 6:35am

“Strict old-style boundaries like the ones assumed to exist between art and science are eroding,” said Stephen Nowlin, an Art Center alumnus and founding director of the Williamson Gallery, which opened in 1992. “Traditional dichotomies such as intellect versus emotion, reason versus intuition, and the poetic versus the practical, are becoming less distinct under the influence of unprecedented communication networks and analytical tools that reveal in higher resolution and greater clarity the complex layers of things and ideas.”
  Are they? If this is true it is really bad for science. Because intellect, reason, practical are important for science. Emotions and intuitions are not very good for science.

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 23, 2013 at 8:28am

The credo of Humanism, "See the truth and be the complete man."

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 22, 2013 at 8:18am

Thank you Alana, for your real and thought provoking contribution to this discussion. I have heard stories here about very ordinary people without any knowledge in science 'inventing things' after learning the principles and theories of science with real interest. Some do it with trial and error methods like the earlier scientists did.
I have heard about a farmer who made a ploughing machine using discarded materials in his farm. This is because he couldn't buy a tractor because of his poverty. How did he do it without any knowledge in science? He couldn't even read books as he was a illiterate. It seems he went to a mechanic and learned a few things. And using this knowledge by trying several times he finally succeeded.
First you have to have interest in learning things. Then you should have an exploring and curious mind. If you have 'real interest' you can succeed in science too even if you are an artist. For that matter anybody - not only artists - can succeed in science this way.

Bette Nesmith Graham was not a very good typist. Still, the high school dropout worked her way through the secretarial pool to become the executive secretary for the chairman of the board of the Texas Bank and Trust. It was the 1950s, and the electric typewriter had just been introduced. Secretaries often found themselves retyping entire pages because of one tiny mistake, as the new model's carbon ribbon made it difficult to correct errors.

One day, Graham watched workers painting a holiday display on a bank window. She noticed that when they made mistakes, they simply added another layer of paint to cover them up, and she thought she could apply that idea to her typing blunders. Using her blender, Graham mixed up a water-based tempera paint with dye that matched her company's stationary. She took it to work and, using a fine watercolor brush, she was able to quickly correct her errors. Soon, the other secretaries were clamoring for the product, which Graham continued to produce in her kitchen. Graham was fired from her job for spending so much time distributing what she called "Mistake Out," but in her unemployment she was able to tweak her mixture, rename the product Liquid Paper and receive a patent in 1958. Even though typewriters have been replaced by computers in many offices, many people still have a bottle or two of that white correction fluid on hand.

Even sports men, businessmen, housewives (yes, there are instances where ordinary housewives have 'invented' things!) Examples:
, In the late 18th century, a religious sect known as the Shakers emerged. Shakers valued living communally (albeit celibately), equality between the sexes and hard work. Tabitha Babbitt lived in a Shaker community in Massachusetts and worked as a weaver, but in 1810, she came up with a way to lighten the load of her brethren. She observed men cutting wood with a pit saw, which is a two-handled saw that requires two men to pull it back and forth. Though the saw is pulled both ways, it only cuts wood when it's pulled forward; the return stroke is useless. To Babbitt, that was wasted energy, so she created a prototype of the circular saw that would go on to be used in saw mills. She attached a circular blade to her spinning wheel so that every movement of the saw produced results.

When Martha Coston was widowed in 1847, she was only 21 years old. She had four children to support, but she hadn't a clue about how to do so. She was flipping through her dead husband's notebooks when she found plans for a flare system that ships could use to communicate at night. Coston requested the system be tested, but it failed.
Coston was undeterred. She spent the next 10 years revising and perfecting her husband's design for a colored flare system. She consulted with scientists and military officers, but she couldn't figure out how to produce flares that were bright and long-lasting while remaining easy to use at the spur of the moment. One night she took her children to see a fireworks display, and that's when she hit upon the idea of applying some pyrotechnic technology to her flare system. The flare system finally worked, and the U.S. Navy bought the rights. The Coston colored flare system was used extensively during the Civil War.
Cochrane was a socialite who loved to entertain, but after her husband died in 1883, she was left with massive debt. Rather than selling off that beloved china, she focused on building a machine that would wash it properly. Her machine relied upon strong water pressure aimed at a wire rack of dishes, and she received a patent for the device in 1886.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Mary Anderson went to New York City for the first time. She saw a much different New York City than the one tourists see today. There were no cabs honking, nor were there thousands of cars vying for position in afternoon traffic. Cars had not yet captured the American imagination and were quite rare when Anderson took that trip, but the woman from Alabama would end up inventing something that has become standard on every automobile. During her trip, Anderson took a tram through the snow-covered city.

She noticed that the driver had to stop the tram every few minutes to wipe the snow off his front window. At the time, all drivers had to do so; rain and snow were thought to be things drivers had to deal with, even though they resulted in poor visibility. When she returned home, Anderson developed a squeegee on a spindle that was attached to a handle on the inside of the vehicle. When the driver needed to clear the glass, he simply pulled on the handle and the squeegee wiped the precipitation from the windshield. Anderson received the patent for her device in 1903; just 10 years later, thousands of Americans owned a car with her invention.
So, creativity is not a sole property of anybody. Anybody can study, learn, experiment and creatively 'invent' or 'discover' things and contribute to science. ('Why only art?' - This is the question one of my business friends asked after reading one of my articles! And that made my grey cells work very hard.) The important contributing factor here is 'interest' or 'necessity'.

'The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively not by the false appearance of things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.’

Yes, we welcome people from all the faculties to the world of science, why only art?

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 22, 2013 at 5:48am

Alana Jelinek • There's a few points I want to add to earlier contributions and then to later ones - apologies therefore for incoherence:

re: the quote from Webster that '[art] didn’t help them discover anything new in terms of science, but it did help them to think about broad context in what they did work.' This reminds me of the introduction to anthropologist Bruno Latour's ground-breaking book, Laboratory Life (1979), written by Jonas Salk (v important biomedical researcher), whose laboratory Latour studied ethnographically. In short, it seems that scientists value any external gaze brought to their work, because it broadens the context in which they operate. This is not specific to art.

re: the increasing pressure to change mechanisms of science - I would like to clarify a few important points within this statement. There is pressure specifically in two areas and both are consequent of neoliberalism. Science, like any discipline, is first and foremost about knowledge-production. What counts as scientific knowledge remains fairly constant (for the time being) and is based on Enlightenment principles.
But what has changed with neoliberalism is two things in particular:
1) the question of what scientific knowledge *should* be produced by scientists (the increasing pressure for profit-orientated science, not 'blue-skies', potentially uncommodifiable theoretical science).
2) the question that scientific thought and research *should* be open to public scrutiny. The latter is where collaborations with art and other non-science disciplines tend to come in - in order to illustrate, disseminate, 'make popular' and accessible scientific research or theories. This is especially the case when funding comes from a 'science' source, as opposed to an art one, but even collaborations that stem from art-funding sometimes have this assumption.

re: art-science collaborations good for science?
Firstly, I will start by offending many by saying that most sci-art is mediocre and furthers neither art nor science - but this is true of most contemporary art and not specific to sci-art. There are many complex structural reasons for the contemporary mediocrity, yet high-profile nature of contemporary art practice - and largely these too are the product of the neoliberalisation of art (plus the fact that every generation of artists since the late nineteenth century has vocalised despair at their peers and their contemporary context).
That said, there are a few truly important, ground-breaking, interesting, complex and nuanced sci-art works. Some, like James Acord, contributed greatly to art, and perhaps to nuclear physics in a very small way. Others have contributed more substantially to science. Mark Dion has contributed to archaeological knowledge, as a by-product of one of his artworks, and Elena Cologni is working in an active engagement with the psychology department of Cambridge University and, from my understanding of the collaborative research, is furthering both her artwork and her collaborator's psychology research.
I also remember meeting at a conference about art and the internet in 2002 an older artist who was the product of the education system when art schools were first becoming part of polys and unis. For the first time in history, it became possible for an art student to also learn computing. This was the 1960s so computers and code were in an early phase. I wish I could remember his name, but this artist plus two others (if my memory serves) made an artwork that was shown at the ICA, London, in which a metal animal-like robot, guided by a few lines of code, responded to audience cues like noise. To everyone's shock, the robot displayed what appeared to be complex behaviour, despite the simplicity of the code behind it.
The contribution to science made by art in this instance was that it became abundantly clear that complex behaviour doesn't require complex 'wiring', or coding, or genetic predisposition, a big brain (etc).
Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox • Alana, I enjoyed reading your last contribution to the discussion.

With regards to your first point, I agree, especially with, 'In short, it seems that scientists value any external gaze brought to their work, because it broadens the context in which they operate. This is not specific to art.' This kind of external gaze does not have to be a formal arrangement. It could happen by simply having a conversation...with an artist even! Is it more about encouraging people with focused disciplines to explore divergent activities, such as visiting a gallery? Or, for an artist, attending a public lecture by a scientist and joining in the chat afterwards? I know this sounds simplistic, but maybe randomness of encounter is as important as more formal arrangements? This has certainly been my experience.

With regards to your point 2, that word 'should' [esp in terms of outcomes] is a troublesome one, for the arts and the sciences. It can diminish, even neutralise, the catalytic agency of the arts and turn grey the 'blue skies' of theoretical science. To be agenda-less does not mean something is direction-less. If an aspect of both the arts and sciences is their capacity to notice/discover and observe new perspectives, then surely prescribed 'shoulds'/agendas could lead to myopic vision? Maybe this is an aspect of the contemporary mediocrity you mention?

Your first sentence in your point 're: art-science collaborations good for science?' does not offend me...I agree. I've seen some interesting art/science works and some not so interesting. I suspect one of the issues is the use of technology as a medium...or the quality of the critique of it as a medium in the arts. I am not scared of technolgy, but I am wary of the seeming adulation of it [and not just in the arts!]. I grew up in a home [on a farm] where we always had the latest gizmos...this was back in the 60s onwards. My father is a HAM radio enthusiast... amongst other things he made our first tv in about 1966 and when computers hit the scene...well you can imagine! We often knew world news early eg: when President Reagan was shot in 1981, my father knew before the news became widespread...yes through the HAM network, long before the ubiquity of the internet. We always had movie cameras etc etc. My two brothers are both in the IT world, one in supercomputing/data management [he also has B.A] and the other straddles the arts/tech world. He is a lighting expert/designer for major entertainment/shows and prior to his current job at a major cultural centre he toured the world doing some very big gigs. He has worked with artists of all kinds. So, my thoughts about technology and sciart are a result of a lifelong immersion in the world of technology. And, I choose to be a painter!

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 21, 2013 at 8:57am

Vicki SowryKrishna, thanks for starting this conversation. Your comment, “Everybody in the sci-art arena now says artists and scientists think and work in the same way. This is becoming the opening statement of each and every sci-artist -irrespective of the fields they come from […]” strikes me as distinctly unscientific – not to mention surprisingly ironic. Really? Everybody in the sci-art arena says this? Well, for one, I don’t - so that disproves your very generalising statement.

Kathryn, your comment “If collaborations were more about observing the 'other' rather than trying to be the 'other' then I suspect vision would remain clear and perspective would flourish” is absolutely key to successful art/science partnerships. I’m a little perplexed by your earlier comment, though, that “art-science collaborations ie: those arranged via formal means requiring application, projected outcomes and acquittal processes, are doomed to be diminished by agenda”. This certainly hasn’t been the case for ANAT’s residency program – see and scroll down to read details of ten years’ worth of residencies. It’s unclear to me why you believe that formalising the process has such a negative impact.

Thank you Vicky. Till now almost all the reports - several hundreds I read - say the same thing. It is based on the reports, articles I read and talks I heard and this is stated clearly in my blog - based on what people already said ( the word 'say' states that it is based on the said words not on unsaid words or not on what people think) - a fact and therefore not unscientific. I have given several links on Art Lab network sci-art news and you can check them yourself. Only when you said what you said I came to know that people like you too exist. ( Science says that we must rely on the best knowledge of the moment but also embrace the uncertainty that it may be provisional. Scientists always think that theirs’ is a work in progress! ) And thanks again for saying you don't think like others do. So You agree with me when I say ' artists and scientists don't think and work in the same way?' Others here might not agree with you! Please read earlier discussions here where people have argued with me when I said these words. Can you please let them know why you think in the way you do? But at least now I see some people on my road. So I am not alone! That gives me some comfort.
Glad to meet you!

And I want to ask Vicky some questions. Has she started saying this from the beginning or has she changed her mind after reading my blog? Where was she all these days when others were arguing with me that I was wrong during other discussions here? Why didn't she say this then or earlier?! How am I suppose to know that she is with me in this until she says she is?

Vicki Sowry • I think we may be talking at cross purposes Krishna. Yes, I was agreeing with you that "artists and scientists don't think and work in the same way". But rather than use that to argue there is no value in them working together I was saying the exact opposite: that it is exactly because of these different approaches that there is value in these collaborations. As Director of an organisation that has directly supported art/science residencies for over ten years, it is unlikely I would be arguing that this type of practice is of little value!
Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa • Vicky, thanks again for saying that you agree with me. In this part of the world people say- if you keep quiet after hearing to something, that means you are giving your consent to it indirectly. So if you don't agree with something you have to say it directly. Otherwise it will be assumed that you are agreeing with it. In that context I asked you why you didn't speak up earlier. It is not a threat like some people are assuming. It is funny to even think you say something with an intension and it is interpreted in some other way! It happens on the internet where people from different parts of the world come together and try to say and understand things from their cultural points of view. Anyway, I must thank you for bringing it to my notice that I didn't put something in the right way. I now made it very clear in my blog. It sometimes doesn't occur to me until somebody tells me because of the heavy burden I place on my mind. In a way you are right. I stand corrected now.
But let me assure you, I am not against the interactions between artists and scientists. I wonder what gave you that idea. I too am running a network based on this very theme, which is like a journal on the subject.Yes, I speak differently from others who support these interactions. I don't like exaggerations and want to put things exactly as they stand. Yes, there are some interesting outcomes. And yes, there are some drawbacks too. Let us accept things as they are. Let us correct things where they are necessary. Let us reap the few benefits. Above all let us move forward with them. I hope I made myself clear now.

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 20, 2013 at 7:19am

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” - Max Planck.

"When a new theory is proposed, scientists will first deny it, then fight it, and then say, 'I knew it all along'!"

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 20, 2013 at 6:17am

Comments on other sites to this discussion:

Alana JelinekThank you for starting this line of questioning. Like you, I feel there are fundamental differences between disciplines and that to elide these differences is both a mistake and unethical.

Unethical may seem a strange word to use in this context, but I use it in a specific sense. In all of my projects, in art projects and academic (or theoretical if that word is preferable), I am guided by the philosopher Levinas regarding ethical engagements with the other as 'other'. I would argue that one of the many permutations of 'other' is as disciplinary other. To imagine that the other is the same as the self is unethical in Levinasian terms. For me, Levinas hits the nail on the head - but I will happily admit that I interpret Levinas well outside of the orthodox philosophical understandings (and probably his own parameters).

To paraphrase Levinas, all western (and therefore Modern*) knowledge stems from the ancient Greek episteme which maintains a fundamental paradox: that local knowledge, Greek knowledge, is understood, not only as correct, but as universal.

Kelly SmithA really great comment Alana, I am currently writing a dissertation on this topic and the points that you make have been very useful, especially the reference to Levinas.

In conversation with a director of the Wellcome Trust's Sciart scheme (1996-2006), he told me about Stephen Webster, a lecturer at Imperial College London, running science communication course and his core concept was to think of science in a more abstract, social, philosophical way. He said 'so it didn’t help them discover anything new in terms of science, but it did help them to think about broad context in what they did work. And if that is seen as a genuine benefit to a scientist in having a better sense of who they are then actually that’s quite a good thing.'

I thought that this was kind of the opposite idea of what Krishna was saying, as here, it seems that Science is having to change its creative mechanisms, not art changing them for science...I was wondering what your views about his comments on this are?

An interesting conclusion made by the Wellcome Trust final report was that one of the specific benefits artists provided scientists was they 'assisted scientists in rediscovering their personal creativity.' I think Krishna commented in this statement somewhere on her ArtLab network...I am not a scientists (I am actually studying Fine Art at university), but I believe that Scientists are very creative people, they are not stupid, they know when the right time is to be creative and know when to stop and then take it to the next level of making an idea reality

(*for historical reasons of colonialism and continuing global power imbalances, Modernity inherently equates to Western biases of what counts as knowledge and who creates knowledge)

To me, it is clear that scientific creativity is different from artistic creativity, just as the creativity of an experimental physicist is different from a statistician, or the creativity of a theoretical physicist is different from the creativity of a sociologist. That said, the creativity of capitalism is different from the creativity of both art and science - at least I hope it is.

Part of the problem with art-science collaborations is that for historical reasons that date to the nineteenth century, art has been equated with creativity. Therefore for science (or other disciplines and praxes) to be creative an 'art' or 'artistic approach' is required. This enacts a great misunderstanding of creativity itself and contemporary art practice as a discipline in its own right.

Kathryn Brimblecombe-FoxKrishna, you ask some very important questions. I suspect art-science collaborations ie: those arranged via formal means requiring application, projected outcomes and aquittal processes, are doomed to be diminished by agenda. I get a feeling of reduced gestalt.

I suspect there is also confusion around the role science illustrators play and the agency of the expresive arts [fine arts]. The latter I do not see as illustrators, who are indeed important within the matrix. Rather, I see the expressive/fine arts, at their best, as having a catalytic agenty which stimulates conversations of all kinds...some involving science and the influence new research has on humankind's vision of its place within the Universe. They are not just reflective, but affective in visioning new perspectives in a non-didactic way.

Fashion is the Devil! If art-science collaborations are the gig-of-the-moment, then they can fall prey to fashion...which may include the sensationalism you mention in one of your articles. Fashion, with its cult of celebrity and its transient, slippery and shallow symbols diminishes sight and perspective...the very elements of art and science that propel them in both their distinctive and sometimes similar investigations!

Both art and science manifest the results of observation in a continual journey involving trial and error, experimentation, theory and imagination. This manifestation is multfaceted ie: tangible and non-tangible [new ideas/theories, new experiments, re-evaluation of past observations, a painting, a book, a new technology and more] If collaborations were more about observing the 'other' rather than trying to be the 'other' then I suspect vision would remain clear and perspective would flourish. Alana, I like your thoughts on Levinas.

Dr. Krishna Kumari ChallaThank you, Alana, Kelly and Kathryn. I think it is important to ask questions and ask questions that are thought provoking. Omitting them or avoiding them will cause more problems.
Alana, your Levinas quote is very important in this context. There is always 'other' but how you treat the other with respect without harming your own identity is extremely important for your own existence. Science and scientists have their own identities and if these are compromised because of your attachment to 'sci-art' it spells doom to your identity as a scientist. Sci-art, yes. But science-art at the cost of science? Definitely a big 'NO'.

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 15, 2013 at 7:00am

( Recently I came across this interesting anecdote from an artist:
Art can advance basic science directly. In 1997, with funding from the UK based Wellcome Sci-Art Trust, we (artists Ackroyd & Harvey) collaborated with scientists at a leading UK environmental research station (IGER) in response to their pivotal work into a strain of grass that did lose its green colour when under stress. Our interest was to apply this seed in our pioneering 'organic' photography - making bio-chemical photographs exploiting the light-sensitivity of the pigment chlorophyll. Just to explain a little further, grass grown from seed on vertical surfaces has an extraordinary capacity to record either simple shadows or complex photographic images through the production of chlorophyll. In a sense, we have adapted the photographic art of producing pictures on a sensitive film to the light sensitivity of emergent blades of young grass; a projected negative replaces an enlarger and over the course of days the equivalent tonal range of black-and-white photographic paper is created within the grass in shades of yellow and green. The subtlety and range of tonal color captured in the grass photographs made a deep impression on our science colleagues and, in a remarkable shift in perception, they realized that observations of plant material could occur in very different circumstances than the established investigative paths. Grinding up leaves and subjecting them to various kinds of separation was the conventional scientific way to analyze the molecular makeup of plant material. The irony of observing processes of life through dead material had been an accepted collusion of established method and material.

It has been argued at times that artists gain more from crossing the cultural divide between art and science than scientists do, yet Prof Thomas and Dr Helen Ougham who we worked with have said that some of the new directions for IGER, (and subsequently IBERS), research would never have been undertaken without our artistic presence.

Working with the scientists enabled us to confer long-term stability on our transient chlorophyll images with the application of this break-through strain of ‘stay-green’ seed and specialised drying methods. The scientists meanwhile took inspiration from the complexity of colour in our photographic photosynthesis work and have made significant international developments with a range of non-invasive high-resolution imaging techniques. As a result of the pioneering art and science lines of research established a decade ago, in May 2012 the National Plant Phenomics Centre opened at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. By Dan Harvey

But what the artist failed to see here is - he crossed the line and went into the realm of science - when he did this work. And he is still saying 'art' helped science. I will put it in this way after reading this story - here scientific creativity developed by an artist helped science not 'artistic creativity'. Artists might not agree but a fact is a fact.

Comment by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa on February 15, 2013 at 5:52am

Somebody said this and I feel this is relevant here:

 A foundation of fools does not allow bricks to be built on top.

If data is schewed from a previous study which you use in your study then your study is schewed.

If you run a study and do not give exactly all the relationships you have schewed your results to your psychology. So someone using your data in another study is now schewed.

The circle is complete, a fool is fooled easily.

© 2019   Created by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service