Monday, June 20, 2011

June DASER: Hybrids

Our blog for the June DASER will be led by Harrison Shapley and Jim Gillin who are interns from Vanderbilt University and are involved in creative cross-disciplinary projects at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy.
Harrison is a senior at Vanderbilt University studying Computer Engineering with a minor in Film Studies. He has many interests and hobbies in the art-science realm, including music production, DJing, video editing, and smartphone programming. Harrison is working for the NASA Open Government team this summer, writing a smartphone app that shows off a creative way of using NASA's data, tools, and discoveries.
To kick the discussion off they wrote:
On Thursday, we saw another successful DASER event. If you aren't familiar with the program, the "D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous" is an opportunity for creative thinkers in the D.C. area to come together and share ideas. I was lucky enough to attend the event this week, and I hope to go to more in the future. There is a movement growing across the country as more and more people realize that the arts and the sciences are not as separable as we once thought. I have noticed this trend myself, even in just my own school. Engineering and science students are seeking to express themselves outside of what often feels like routine classroom and research work, and art students are turning to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) areas for inspiration, not to mention becoming increasingly reliant on technology to produce their works.

As the united art-science future coalesces, more and more concrete real-world examples of the merging of the two fields are emerging. This week's DASER featured speakers who testified to this, including Cynthia Pannucci, Elizabeth Warson, Michael Sappol, and Pamela Jennings. Cynthia is an artist and the founder/director of
Art & Science Collaborations, Inc., or ASCI. Cynthia showed off many of the fascinating works that have come out of ASCI, and we can expect a lot more in the future. Next on the schedule was Elizabeth Warson, who gave a fascinating presentation on the difference between Native American and Western concepts of health, wellness, and medicine. Elizabeth is an assistant professor in the Graduate Art Therapy program at The George Washington University and is working on new methods of art therapy. At DASER, she discussed a project she's working on in conjunction with Coharie American Indian tribe exploring the combination of traditional American Indian holistic practices and complementary forms of therapy. Michael Sappol, a curator and historian at the National Library of Medicine at the NIH, presented on the topic of popular medical illustrations in early and middle 20th century and how they exemplified modernism. This particular topic is a perfect example of how art and science can help and expand each other - as artists used modern techniques and concepts to help explain science and medicine to the masses, scientists found a new visual vocabulary of expression. Finally, Pamela L. Jennings presented a few of the projects she has worked on that combine both STEM and art (STEAM). As the program director for the Human Centered Computing and CreativeIT Program at the NSF, Pamela has been lucky enough to pursue many projects at the intersection between disciplines. The ones she presented on Thursday included the "Sui Generis" print series which explores self-portraiture as speculation on medical intervention and the body as machine, and "Speaks Volumes", which is a computational etude that explores the ephemeral passages of lives once lived and lost. Both projects heavily rely on science and technology for their production, as well as providing commentary on their status and use.

Although the panelists are the centerpiece of the physical DASER event, they are meant to inspire others through their real-world experience. DASER is a community; one which I hope is growing, centered around action. I was pleased to see so many attendees to Thursday's meeting, and it was clear that the true benefit of the DASER occurred in the lobby over drinks and snacks. DASERs provide a means for connecting and inspiring. And it will continue to occur here, on the internet.  

During the DASER discussion, Pamela
responded to a question from the audience regarding the growing interest in the STEM vs. STEAM approaches to education by expressing concern over solely thinking of art as being in service to science in terms of illustration. Pamela said that there is value in artists either working as individuals or collaboratively who are transcending the boundaries of the silos of the disciplines and effectively becoming, in essence, hybrids – those who cannot easily be categorized as either a scientist or an artist but whose research is rooted in both epistemologies.  She pointed out that this is where some really interesting ideas and innovation occur, whether from the science and technology side or from the aesthetic side.  There are many ways that we can think about the art and science union and she challenged us to look at the bigger picture – to consider the many ways that these practices come together. 

We would like to ask the DASER community to add to this discussion by providing examples of these hybrids both inside and outside of the DC region.  How do they impact the work within various disciplines and not just the advancement of science?  Two examples were found within our DASER panel.  Elizabeth Warson, working as a therapist within the medical field, self-identifies as an artist.  Pamela Jennings produces works as an artist and yet is trained as an information scientist.  Furthermore, what are the institutional road blocks to these approaches and will we ever see these hybrids become common occurrences within the science and art communities?


  1. Here is a question that could lead to a fascinating experiment: What if the primary goal of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education shifted from the early training of future scientists to the sparking of love for the scientific way of knowing and understanding the world. I hypothesize that many of those who come to love the scientific stories that connect the tiniest fundamental particles to the entire expanse to the universe to their very own brain/minds will, in fact, then choose to become scientists. In short, the new primary goal of inviting students to love science will often catalyze a pathway to the secondary goal of more students choosing to become scientists and undertaking the rigorous training that often entails.

    The challenge here is that the traditional entry points to STEM education have the cart (lets mold our student into scientists) leading the horse (lets invite our students to fall in love with science). I suggest that open-minded STEM thinkers join with science-smitten/inspired artists to develop new entry-level curricula that value metaphoric, aesthetic and media-based modes (poetry, music, painting, sculpture, photography, etc.) of internalizing and externalizing scientific knowing and sensibility as much as the quantitative, statistical, and evidence- and theory- based logical modes of scientific knowing. The resulting cognitive framework, I suspect, would open up new, compelling, attractive and consequential approaches to both scientific and artistic discovery.

    Ivan Amato