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Visual artists on campus are suddenly gung ho about rocks. The second floor of the List Art Center houses student drawings of rocks. Two locations in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts display three-dimensional rocks. The Granoff Center is also enthusiastic about trees and mud monsters and, according to a current exhibit pamphlet, "totemic responses to systems of physics in suspense."

The description next to the List display states that rocks are indirectly experienced phenomena. People usually see them divorced from their origins: when they are fallen from cliffs, composed of stones or severed from streams. A rock, in order to be a rock, is either a fragment, broken off from a larger whole, or fragmented, emerging from pieces of various histories.

The exhibit may seem like just an exercise in technique for Drawing I students, but it is also a geological endeavor.

Though the modern academy's specialization obscures the connection between biology and art, naturalists have traditionally also been illustrators. To illustrate this point — pun intended — think of Darwin, who sketched birds and beetles in his diary, or Lewis and Clark, who documented every sight from leaves to canoes. In fact, the John Hay Library boasts a rare folio of John James Audubon's "The Birds of America," a monument of both art and science.

Biology's influence on art has been prominent from Da Vinci's highly researched anatomical studies to the Rhode Island School of Design's nature lab and the Museum of Modern Art's recent synthetic biology exhibit. As for the reverse, the sciences are usually less eager to incorporate insights from the arts and humanities because scientific knowledge conventionally enjoys a privileged status.

But increasingly advanced technology may demand a resurgence of artists' involvement with biology. It is common knowledge that artists are charged with the task of representation, but scientists could learn a bit from them.

Such technological advances as chromosome dyes and neuroimaging call into question how best to represent physical phenomena. The color-coded pictures of brains seen in scientific journals and popular magazines started off as measurements of electrical currents that require extensive manipulation to become decipherable as results. This knowledge, like the observation of rocks, is indirectly gathered and inherently removed from its object.

It is generally not appropriate to quote Martin Heidegger in a college newspaper, but this is too fitting: "The essence of modern technology lies in … the destining of revealing." Translation: Technology, broadly defined to include artists' and scientists' tools, reveals a truth while also determining what that truth is. In this way, man-made inventions paradoxically hold sway over popular conceptions of nature.

Microscopes, cameras, pencil and plaster are technologies used in both art and biology to visualize and create elegant models of natural phenomena ranging from DNA to mountains. Art can provide scientists — or students trying to effectively memorize diagrams for science exams — with creative techniques to show nature and to preordain how it is seen.

Revealing and destining are two sides of the same coin of any technology used in any field, but the intervention of art in science may give rise to an emphasis on the latter.

Sociologist Nikolas Rose claims that recent discoveries surrounding the Human Genome Project have made biology flat — concerned only with the deepest explanatory level, which to many is the molecular.

The thing about flat images is that you can only see them one way. We need to make science 3D and thus viewable from many perspectives: as the creation of a body of knowledge's destiny, as a model of reality that is not equivalent to reality itself, as a rock whose crevices cut across many axes but never point toward any single true identity that forecloses creativity.


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