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What is Scientific Art?

The blending of art and science has inspired incredible pieces that fuse a visceral, emotional experience with defined scientific concepts. These works are often stunningly beautiful, and encourage the viewer to engage with the rich history of research and experimentation that led to the piece’s conception. They can also be, well, do none of the above.

What is good art-science? Is there a formula to this blend? When is something purely art, and at what point does it become purely science?

Good art-science should give the viewer the experience of both worlds. The key difference in these two worlds lies in the direct opposition of emotion from reason. Of what is felt to be true from what has been defined to be true. Of a viewer-independent response from an answer that has been discovered via rigorous testing. Of an artist’s personal process from the Scientific Method. Good art-science should provide the viewer with an equally satisfactory experience when viewed from both angles.

For example, many microscope images are good examples of art-science. From the point of view of looking at “art”, these images shock with their beauty and visual construction. They inspire imaginative exploration and interpretation, drawing out emotional responses from viewers. If one were to instead look at them from the point of view of “science,” they offer meaningful answers to well-defined questions. One can ask and answer what the content of the image is, its scale, the reason for which it was taken. Because the image is both mysterious and understood, abstract and precisely measured, because it so easily allows the viewer to travel between these two perspectives, it qualifies as good art-science.

Bad art-science is unbalanced in this respect. Either too artsy, or too sciency. Concept pieces, for example, or predictive works illustrating the future, often fall to the art side of the spectrum. Diagrams and explanatory schemes often fall to the science side.

A piece that draws an emotional response yet can also withstand the scientific method and provide answers to questions is the ultimate manifestation of good art-science. These pieces mystify us with the complexity of their beauty, inspire us with the rich history of experimentation, and stupefy us with questions. They merge the known with the unknown in a way that uplifts. They bask in the realm of awe, mystery, and wonder. And only when there is this diversity of responses has the true objective of art-science been achieved.

Image credit to the Imaginary Foundation.

Article written by Julia Borden.

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