” . . . And so I’ve begun to wonder recently whether STEM needs something to give it some STE(A)M—an “A” for art between the engineering and the math to ground the bits and bytes in the physical world before us, to lift them up and make them human. What if America approached innovation with more than just technology? What if, just like STEM is made up of science, technology, engineering and math, we had IDEA, made of intuition, design, emotion, and art—all the things that make us humans feel, well, human? It seems to me that if we use this moment to reassess our values, putting just a little bit of our humanity back into America’s innovation engines will lead to the most meaningful kind of progress. By doing so, we will find a way back to integrating thinking with making and being and feeling and living so that left- and right-brained creativity can lift our economy back into the sky. . . “
John Maeda--designer, scientist, president at RISD
from The Guardian last week . . . “A graphic designer and computer scientist, known for his work on the online computer game Second Life, as well as the author of bestselling self-help book The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda has made great use of dual educations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and art school. Drawing from his experiences in these two disciplines, the 44-year-old has come to believe that too stark a distinction is drawn between science and the arts. It is Maeda’s conviction that scientists need art and artists in their professional lives in order to invent and innovate successfully, and with a particular focus on education he has toured the world to promote the idea that government-approved “STEM” subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) should be widened to include art; “turning STEM into STEAM” as he puts it. . . . “ More here . . . My bright idea: Innovation is born when art meets science | Technology | The Observer.
One thing I can’t help but wonder . . . if there’s a gradual growth of interest in bringing artists into scientific workplaces, what about bringing more scientists into the artists’ workplaces and performance spaces? What dividends would that reap? –mpw
from the "Morphology" website at http://users.design.ucla.edu/~mflux/morphology/details.htm. "The work here is known as "computer based model building", and the analogy here is multicellular biology. It's just like making a map on the ground, letting twigs and rocks represent landmarks, paths, and places of interests. Here I'm allowing equally crude forms and behaviors represent highly complex things, such as the laws of physics, chemistry, and systems of biology."
An article from SEED Magazine, “Getting Past the Pie Chart,” took me back to some of the most interesting ideas we talked about in the first ARTStem seminar in August of 2009, which revolved around the art of visualizing information or data. That’s not a new kind of activity, of course, but digital tools offer a lot of new kinds of experimenting with how to visually communicate information. And on the flip side, modern science and new technologies for data collection are producing data sets so huge and deep that they defy (or at least threaten to) traditional modes of representation.
To my mind, this is where everything comes together–this is where the shared project of the humanities, the arts, and the sciences reveals itself. At root, we’re all working at the very complicated interstices of knowledge discovery, organization, and representation/communication. This is one of the junctions where I think all art and design practices can play a powerful role in facilitating public understanding of, and civic dialogue about, complicated issues involving global scales, big numbers, and levels of interconnection and interdependence that are near impossible to wrap our heads around.
If you’ve never looked at it before, check out this IBM project called ManyEyes. It’s geared toward the ‘democratization of visualization’ and provides tools to creatively visualize and map data sets, ostensibly to render meaningful important information that, in the absence of effective representation, never travels that last, most difficult path from being raw information to becoming human knowledge. There’s also some pretty cool links there. For example, this at VisualComplexity.com. In particular, this blog entry on different ways of “visualizing music and sound” captured my interest. Here’s a video of a music visualization of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
How excellent would it be to have an ARTStem project that somehow combined students in the sciences (or social sciences, for that matter) collecting data of different sorts on topics of importance (researching, surveying, fieldwork, etc.), learning to manipulate and mine for meaning with digital applications, thinking critically about modes of representation, and perhaps even communicating with more dramatic, performative strategies, too?
Something of this ilk has actually been done in recent years by the Winston-Salem Light Project (led by UNCSA D&P’s Norman Coates), come to think of it, which has done some awesome light projections, including some with real pedagogical content. Check that out this year if you have a chance.
Really interesting article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education about the increasing collaboration between academic science and Hollywood. ARTICLE. Particularly important–this isn’t just about filmmakers mining scientific knowledge and know-how, but about science recognizing it’s own existence within mediated fields of knowledge and its dependence on film (and other media) as a key shaper of debates and public understanding.
David A. Kirby is one of the scholars mentioned. Here’s his website, which features some interesting essays about the interaction between science and cinema.
Also of interest, the National Academy of Sciences 2-yr-old program–The Science and Entertainment Exchange. Check out the website here. Related video below, featuring Seth Macfarlane.
Other related notes:
Recent symposium at the UPenn Annenberg School of Communication on the “performative” dimension of science–featuring “a wide range of scholars and leading practitioners in the area of the history of performance, science and scientific performance to discuss how persuasive rhetorical skills and public performance are central to the business of making scientific knowledge real.“
During the first ARTStem seminar, we talked quite a bit about the power of various art forms to give visual, tangible form to the knowledge that humans discover and create, including scientific knowledge. One of the places this came up was over at Duke University where we visited their immersive virtual environment and sound labs. In both, art (combined with technology)was helping translate one type of knowledge into a different form. Movement into sound, history into image, etc. But ultimately, one of the challenges I think most the group recognized by seminar’s end came down to this question: How do we translate the playful, free-wheeling, imaginative conversation that the 4-day event allowed for into something more enduring? Put another way, if we created meaningful knowledge during the seminar (knowledge of each other, of our two institutions, of the different ‘disciplines’ we represent, how do represent (i.e. RE-present, present again)and even recreate it in other places, even in our classrooms? That’s a tough nut to crack, and one I suspect we’ll be playing with a lot in the months to come.
However, one of the other participants, Jason Romney (a sound designer at UNCSA), had a cool idea on the last day of the seminar. He copied-and-pasted the text from some the group’s correspondence and blog material into a “word cloud generator.” Word clouds are pretty interesting things, because they effectively take something fundamentally non-visual–a conversation–and turn it into an image. The terms used most often in a conversation (minus the usual suspects of “a,” “an,” “the,” and other mundane words like that) are given more prominence and weight in the image. So a quick look at the cloud tells you a lot about the focus of the conversation. It’s not a perfect, seamless translation. But thinking about how this little technological process both captures and fails to capture the intricacies of human conversation is, itself, worth thinking thinking about more.
Using the free online application, Wordle, I tried to recreate Jason’s spontaneous image-creation. Here it is as a .jpg. I think it does a pretty good job illustrating the ideas that flowed during the seminar. (image credit: http://www.wordle.net)