Science & Research

Panel talks intersection of science, art

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, October 19, 2012

Five artists and scientists spoke Tuesday evening as part of a Brain Storm panel about the connection between science and art. Produced by the Everett Company, the speakers discussed how they had integrated science and art within their own careers and how the two can be combined in science education.

The integration of science and art was at the heart of the discussion. All of the speakers came from disparate fields, and each integrated the separate domains of science and art into their own work. “What happens when we are all at the same table?” said Dorothy Jungels, who founded Everett.

Everett began when Dorothy and Aaron Jungels first collaborated with science teacher Paul Mellows to create a theater piece about physics at Middletown High School in 1986. Aaron Jungels presented a video of their first production during his presentation. Their intent was to instill science skills in students though art. 

Lucy Spelman, a veterinarian and a faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design, now uses a similar method of teaching at RISD, where her students create art that interprets current issues in science, such as genetics and pollution. She first utilized the science-art connection to promote advocacy for gorillas in Rwanda, while working with the organization One Health. After realizing that the welfare of gorillas and humans is intrinsically linked, she decided that she needed people to actively participate in their conservation. “Effective science can help us connect to the natural world,” she said. Spelman said she encourages people to use art to connect with the gorillas and their habitat.

Sarah Pease, a student at RISD who founded the STEAM club on campus, described her motivation for founding the group, which adds arts to the science, technology, engineering and math of traditional STEM programs. The student interest group meets to work on projects without focusing on end results, brings in speakers and promotes integrated education in schools. A senior in furniture design at RISD, Pease utilizes science and technology in her work. She combined these interests last fall as a visiting student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology media lab, where she discovered that technology allows artists to design more than they are otherwise able to by hand. “Some programs are developing to the extent that the hands get lost,” she said. 

Michael Paradiso, a professor of neuroscience and director of Brown’s Center for Vision Research, discussed how the brain perceives art, focusing on parts of the brain that are responsible for detecting edges in images as well as the area of the brain thought to recognize faces.

Held in a studio at the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, the event was attended by a small crowd that included many community members. The room contained an oversized brain model next to the panelists’ table. The panelists spoke about their inspiration for becoming scientists and artists and their decision to combine the fields. After each speaker had presented on his or her work, there was a brief Q&A.