A spate of recent arts/medicine convergences have caught my attention, and has me thinking about the potential of ARTStem collaborations between our arts institution and the medical research and healthcare sectors of Winston-Salem.
Here’s a short article out of Drexel University about a current exhibit of artistic work once used in medical education. The Smart Set: A Model Body.
Here’s a news story about the exhibit:
And there was this item from the Chronicle of Higher Education about “narrative medicine,” an approach that aligns training in narrative with training in medical diagnosis. From the story: ” . . . Lately, however, I’ve become interested in the field of narrative medicine, which takes a more sympathetic view of doctors. The idea here is that studying narrative—training doctors to read literature, to become more compassionate listeners and interpreters of the stories their patients tell—can make doctors better at what they do. To develop “narrative competence,” doctors are encouraged to undertake self-reflective writing exercises to help them process the emotional residue left by confrontations with illness, pain, and death. As the parent of a child who needs medical attention, I’m attracted to the idea that my training as a literary critic might help doctors more capably realize the ideals of their own profession. . . . ” More: http://chronicle.com/article/Narratives-Medicine/126560/
UNCSA School of Drama students Timothy Thompson and Wiley Gorn chat with director Linsay Firman during “Staging Science” residency at UNCSA
On February 14-16, a remarkable three-day residency took place at UNCSA and RJ Reynolds High School. The New York-based playwright Anna Ziegler and director and literary manager from NYC’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, Linsay Firman, visited as part of the ARTStem Faculty Project “Staging Science.” The residency included classroom visits to Undergraduate Academic Program courses, work with UNCSA School of Drama actors and directors, and visits to Reynolds HS classes in the media arts and acting. It’s high point, perhaps, was a wonderful dramatic reading of Ziegler’s play, PHOTOGRAPH 51, a story about the mid-century scientist Rosalind Franklin and her long-unheralded role in the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA. More reflections on the residency will follow in later posts. For now, here are a few pictures from rehearsals with the actors and visits to RJ Reynolds High School.
Lawrence Krauss, author of the forthcoming biography of theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, had this to say in a quirky little column in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago:
” . . . Writing about science poses a fundamental problem right at the outset: You have to lie. I don’t mean lie in the sense ofintentionally misleading people. I mean that because math is the language of science, scientists who want to translate their work into popular parlance have to use verbal or pictorial metaphors that are necessarily inexact. Here is where the art of science writing for the public truly lies. Choosing the proper metaphor can make all the difference between distorting science and providing an appropriate context from which nonscientists can appreciate new scientific findings and put them in perspective. . . .”
Ripped from the headlines. An enlightening column from the mathematician John Allen Paulos, from the New York Times.
” . . . I’ll close with perhaps the most fundamental tension between stories and statistics. The focus of stories is on individual people rather than averages, on motives rather than movements, on point of view rather than the view from nowhere, context rather than raw data. Moreover, stories are open-ended and metaphorical rather than determinate and literal.
In the end, whether we resonate viscerally to King Lear’s predicament in dividing his realm among his three daughters or can’t help thinking of various mathematical apportionment ideas that may have helped him clarify his situation is probably beyond calculation. At different times and places most of us can, should, and do respond in both ways. . . . ” The full article HERE.
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.
The great E.O. Wilson (whose book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge helped inspire ARTStem) was on Charlie Rose recently to tout his new book, his debut work of fiction, Anthill. He had some interesting things to say about why, late in his career, he turned to fiction:
“I finally realized people respect nonfiction, but they read novels. If you have a story to tell, as I think, well, one famous Hollywood producer put it–Howard Hawks— ‘Find a good story and tell it!” Well, we have a lot of good stories to tell in science about the natural world. We have a lot of messages about the living world. We’ve been putting it across for a long time in nonfiction works and we’re not making the type of progress that we’d like to make.” —E.O. Wilson
Once again, it all comes back to story. It’s that common ground, a solvent in which everything we study and teach about—artists, humanists, scientists alike—dissolves into one shared project.