Visual Beings: Meet Symbiartic
If you’re old enough to remember when people actually read papernewspapers, you might remember when The New York Times switched from a black and white newspaper to a color newspaper. Arms were thrown to the sky as intellectuals everywhere decried the “dumbing down” of their trusted news source. Why should a reputable paper like the NYTimes feel the need to compete with other color rags on the newsstand? Shouldn’t its content speak for itself? Gasp! Sigh! Omg!
In retrospect, it was a silly objection. Let’s face it: we are visual beings. The proof is in our genome. While a whopping 3 percent of the mammalian genome is dedicated to the sense of smell, humans have mutations that knock out almost 10% of those genes, relegating them to the baggage of damaged, useless genes we pass on to our children. Interestingly, these mutations can be traced back 40 million years to the acquisition of trichromatic color vision in apes and New World monkeys. Lucky for Pig-Pen, color vision was a good enough deal that our ancestors could afford to miss out on some smells.
Which brings us to the point of this blog. We (your faithful bloggers) are serious science geeks. We were those kids who’d get foamy at the mouth talking about dinosaurs and astronauts and hydroplaning and slime. Geeky though we may be, we also have the social skills to understand that the shifty, impatient movements of our friends meant that they weren’t as taken with the intricacy of science as we were. So rather than continue to rattle off formulas at them, we sought other ways to communicate our passion. In the process, we discovered our artistic talents were a great way to serve up science to our non-science friends. As the higher-ups at the NYTimes most certainly figured out, it never hurts to draw people into substantial content with a little color and light. In this blog, we hope to draw attention to the art in science and the science in art (pun fully intended), essentially mapping the interface between science & art. May we learn from it and spread our sciencey mission to the unsuspecting masses.
Follow us @symbiartic on Twitter.
ABOUT SYMBIARTIC’S CONTRIBUTORS:
Co-Author: Kalliopi Monoyios
I have been at the junction of science and art for ten years, working as a scientific illustrator for The University of Chicago paleontologist Neil Shubin. When I first started, I simply viewed scientific illustration as a clever way to combine two lifelong interests of mine: science and art. But as I became more comfortable in my role, I realized that what I was producing was serving as an entree for non-specialists and the public into the hard science that our lab was producing. As my professional circle expanded and I was exposed to scientists less outreach-oriented than Shubin, I discovered that many were reluctant or unable to prune the gory details from their work to make it accessible to a wider audience. Even the geeky science fans among us need a little appetizer to lure us into some of the more esoteric research. So what started as a self-serving pursuit has morphed into a philosophy of bringing science to the masses via something more accessible: art. Since art in the service of science, if done well, should highlight the science rather than draw attention to itself, I’m hoping this blog will help shine the spotlight on what’s working, why it does, and who’s doing it best.
Kalliopi can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or directly through her website. That site also contains her online portfolioand links to her other projects including another science-art blog, An Eye For Science. For the most part An Eye is bite-sized musings on images being used to express science in the media like this post on an app for color blind people, this one on a global pollution map, and this one on geese that fly as high as commercial airplanes. Check out the archive for a more complete view of its scope. You can also see her work in two popular non-fiction books, Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin (Knopf 2008), and Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne (Viking 2009).
And here is a sample of Kalliopi's work (fun fact: Your Inner Fish has been published in 18 languages to date... or at least that's how many I've been able to get my hands on...)
Co-Author: Glendon Mellow
A lot of fine artists like to rebel against the status quo, and I suppose my undergraduate years were no different. After realizing the extent of the influence River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins was having on my degree studio work, and how evolutionary biology mystified many peers and professors, I kept it up. My counter-culture posing included pvc pants, blue hair and microbio books. Then, during a gallery exhibit, a zoology-major friend began gushing about a tardigrade in my painting. I realized she understood the painting in a way others didn’t, right down to the hooked feet. It’s an incredible thing to make a painting in which someone can read the visual metaphors and understand them. The goal became to inspire scientists the way they have inspired me as an artist. And I keep trying to find ways to do that: “Art in Awe of Science” from oil paintings to digital illustrations to tattoos. I’m not alone. There’s a wealth of image-makers out there, a bona-fide science-art movement. I am hoping Symbiartic can springboard exploration of the techniques, professional issues, the chosen subjects and the people who are inspired by science to create.
You can view his science-art at his portfolio at glendonmellow.com.
Since 2007, Glendon has shown his in-process artwork on The Flying Trilobite blog where he insists on portraying prehistoric animals as inaccurately as possible. He’s also started a webcomic about his character Trilobite Boy on Tumblr.
You can find a list of interviews on his Media page.
Glendon also maintains a Science Artists Feed of about 100 science-art blogs that appears on scienceblogging.org.
Here are a few previous posts Glendon’s done on The Flying Trilobite that Symbiartic readers may find interesting:
And here are a couple of samples of Glendon’s art:
Symbiartic Comment Policy
We’re pretty tolerant of a lot comments so feel free to attack, discuss, debate, agree and sycophantically fawn over ideas. At least one of us is vegetarian, so please, no spam - canned or virtual. We reserve the right to exercise our capricious artistic temperament and delete or disemvowel any comments that either tire us or praise those vapid video installations that plague modern art museums.