Scientist-Artist Collaborations


A piece from the artist Andy Goldsworthy

Science and art have each been passions of mine for quite some time, so when I stumbled on Positive Feedback I was thrilled. Positive Feedback is an initiative that encourages collaboration between scientists and artists. I love this. There is so much unexplored potential here, it’s kind of mind boggling. I’ve been involved in scientific research for a number of years now and have been sculpting since high school. This post will largely be from the perspective of a scientist. While I do enjoy sculpting, I’m not an artist in the sense that I present my work publicly or make a living doing so (that requires dedication and talent that is well beyond me).

An interdisciplinary collaboration such as this may seem far fetched, but in many ways the workflow of the two fields are similar. Experiment design and problem definition intimately relate to the creative process. Reflecting on the impact humans have on the environment and posing questions about those interactions could as easily describe a play-write as a it could a climate scientist. Spending a little extra time understanding how artists approach the creative process could pay huge dividends for scientists. After all, groundbreaking research is often not about a technically mind-boggling solution, but rather a new perspective.

As with any potential collaboration, those involved will inevitably eventually need to address funding. Artists and Scientists alike work on commission to a certain extent. No funding, no work. Although I can’t speak for funding in the art world, the world of science is experiencing a huge push towards carrying scientific research beyond the campuses of academia. Proposing collaborations with artists is an interesting way to consider this. By no means am I proposing that scientists treat artists as a PR firm to be used to fulfill grant obligations. The ultimate goal of this collaboration for scientists is to learn how artists approach communicating complex ideas. Science can be captivating, and carrying scientific research beyond the ivory tower shouldn’t be domestic drudgery.

What most excites me about the potential for collaboration between artists and scientists is the unknown. I have no idea where these collaborations will lead, and that’s exciting. As with most interdisciplinary work, artist-scientist collaborations will probably be difficult and involve a good deal of unpaid overtime, but in the end will be beneficial for everyone involved.