Response to 3.4 by Margaret Wertheim

Margaret Wertheim / As someone who trained in physics and mathematics and now works as an artist and a science writer I find that there’s a fair bit of confusion in the arts-practice sphere about what scientific research is, which is creating angst around the idea of what “research” might mean for arts practice. Let me begin with an anecdote:

The other day I was speaking with an artist I respect about mathematics and I mentioned that when getting a PhD in math you have to come up with new equations. He was rather surprised and didn’t understand that new equations are the sine qua non of math research. Equally, in theoretical physics you are expected to come up with new equations to get your research published. There isn’t really an equivalent in art practice because the “validity” of equations is judged by pretty narrow parameters.  I want to dispel … Continue reading

Response to Dan on activism

Linda Francis/ I do agree, particularly when, as a result of my failure to convince the Audubon Society and a number of associated land trusts with a very well researched and simply reasoned discussion, to actually take some position that would be in accord with their own conservation mandate, I understood in a flash how all is lost on a local level. If one multiplies/enlarges the willful ignorance that was at work, one can see why on a national level we are losing all too.

In regards to your posts and Taney’s on Bernar Venet: I totally agree with your view of the work and want to point out that there are some superficial devices- words placed obviously in some of the panels acknowledging the current rhetoric in fashion. eg: on one you will see a phrase in an eye catching position naming Kurt Goedel and on another piece the … Continue reading

Some thoughts from Matthew Ritchie

Matthew Ritchie/ The question of what constitutes ‘scientific imagery and scientific content’ as specific terms separate from the representation of other forms of human enquiry is evolving – and therefore often poorly defined or indefinable. Even the term ‘scientist’ only appears in the early nineteenth century, in counterpart to the idea of the ‘artist’, precisely when it becomes clear there are many specific forms of science, just as there are many specific forms of art.

The goals, uses, materials and processes of science and art are not necessarily exclusive, but are often mirrors of each other. In both fields, a premium is placed on freedom of enquiry and instrumentalizing both physical and metaphysical data, all in the service of hypothetically reciprocal (but as often competing) social and theoretical ends. The differences in presentation and interpretation often lie as much in the chosen application of visualization technology and the expected terms … Continue reading


Linda Francis/ I certainly concur with Leonard’s post on legitimacy, although it is difficult to know how to judge things that we want to call art of any kind, and within that sci-art. The problem both Taney and Daniel have identified is the problem of relevance or authority in society as a whole.. But I ask this question: what do we want from sci art, and how is that similar or different from what we want from art in general. Taney and Suzanne speak about Activism or social relevancy in art. Bio-art when it is positively positioned gives us some excellent and useful ideas in trying to solve various pressing problems we have as a society-However, is the “art” we are attempting to label an art that maybe does not operate in any quotidian sphere, and is there no need for it at this point? I don’t mean to exempt … Continue reading

Response to 3.5 from Suzanne Anker

Suzanne Anker/ As we continue the conversation, the “sci-art” proposition and its engagement is still not resolved. What is included in this set? Do we separate out the physical sciences from the biological ones? Bio Art may be a sub-set of this conjunction, but does it follow that there is a Physics Art? Geology Art? Mathematics Art? I don’t think so. When artists such as Damien Hirst or Marc Quinn or even Orlan employ dead animals, bodily fluids or molecular substances in their work, they are not referred to as belonging to the “sci-art” genre. What is included in this designation and why? Many artists working with wetware in a laboratory mode are in general either making amateur science or speculative design. Let’s not forget that our discourse is in art, art theory and art history or even cultural studies. Artists in the “sci-art” domain are not equipped to rant … Continue reading

The Sci-Art Moniker and Art’s Fight for Relevancy

Daniel Hill/As has been touched on so eloquently elsewhere here, and as evidenced by the absence of Sci-Music or Sci-Poetry, the visual arts appear to be in a desperate position to retain some cultural authority.  Whether the alienation of the general public; the toll paid for years of cold, exclusive postmodernist jargon; a blind capitalist system dictating aesthetics via market value; or poor overall art education, the art world seems to be a bit of a mess right now.  It is no wonder that Sci-Art would emerge, but the moniker has become synonymous with an illustrative aesthetic which can lose sight of art’s fullest, most valuable potential.  It is noteworthy that the “Sci” comes first in this name and emphasizes the concern that the art part gets lost.  Art has the unique ability to pitch our perspectives outside of our little world enough so that we see the world … Continue reading

Response to Leonard Re: ‘Giving Legitimacy to Nonsense’

Stephen Nowlin/ In his critique of “artworks which include random scientific imagery in order to ‘science up’ the artwork” Leonard Shapiro thoughtfully raises a fundamental issue for Sci-Art. The challenge is how to manage an artwork that appropriates scientific imagery for the purpose of evoking emotional reactions and transcendent associations which were not inherent in the imagery’s specific scientific origin, thus proffering for that imagery its legitimate resonance with broader ideas and sensations — and at the same time remaining true to the integrity of the science. When poeticizing or in effect acknowledging the genuinely ‘spiritualizing’ dimensions of science, it is nonetheless easy to slip into complicity (or give the appearance of doing so) with New-Age mysticism, religious pseudo-science, or paranormal and supernatural memes that clearly misinterpret and pervert rather than promote science consciousness. It is in the discourse over how Sci-Art challenges such historically and culturally institutionalized perversions of … Continue reading

Sci-Art as Activism

Taney Roniger/ Since we’re on the subject of practice, I want to reintroduce a question Eve Laramee brought up early on in this discussion, which was: Is there a place for activism within sci-art? Given Eve’s own work as an environmental artist and activist, I think the answer is certainly yes. But I wonder if anyone would care to speculate about some of the complications inherent in this kind of work. It seems to me that when one’s explicit intention is to educate or raise awareness, it becomes especially important to get the science involved right and to relate it unequivocally. This puts considerable pressure on the artist – and on the art. From what I’ve seen, much of the work that falls under the activist art rubric suffers from a certain heavy-handed didacticism and a concomitant diminution of aesthetic complexity.

One example that comes to mind is Maya … Continue reading

Art invoking the authority of Science in order to give ‘legitimacy’ to non-sense

Leonard Shapiro/ I have often seen artworks which include random scientific imagery in order to ‘science up’ the artwork; to give the artwork the veneer of being an artwork that is making a comment that is supported by science. This imagery is often unintelligible (to the general public and even to the visually literate) and can even consist of a fragment of the original scientific image.  In doing this, artists are doing science (and sci-art) a dis-service in that unintelligible sci-art imagery alienates non-scientists even further from approaching and understanding things scientific.  And it certainly alienates scientists from art and artists.… Continue reading

Response to Werner Sun

Leonard Shapiro/ The fundamental differences between the ‘language of art’ and the ‘language of science’.
It might be obvious and for that reason overlooked: each individual artist uses a visual language specific to them and we the viewer need to get to understand their unique language in order to ‘read’ and understand their artwork and what they are trying to ‘say’. Even fellow artists need to decipher the unique visual language that their fellow artists use.
Scientists (and indeed the whole science community) use a universally understood language. As such, scientists understand each other’s writings, terminology, visual imagery, annotations, etc. immediately. There are descriptive standards which facilitate precise understandings and clear, unambiguous communication.… Continue reading