Art Works Blog

5 Times Art + Science Collaborations Made Perfect Sense

Artists have long been inspired by the sciences. From John James Audobon's meticulous illustrations of birds to Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka's ultra-realistic glass models of flora to just about everything by the original artist-scientist himself Leonardo DaVinci. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of art-science collaborations, some by artists who are also scientists, and some by artists who've earned their scientific bonafides through in-depth study of their subject matter and in conversation with scientist colleagues. Scientists have also come to understand how the arts can be essential to their work--from Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson embracing the media arts as a platform to share scientific knowledge to a 2014 study published in Atmospheric and Chemistry and Physics that looked at more than 300 paintings from 1500-2000 as a way to study climate change. What follows are just a few stories from our art-science story archive. We invite you to explore the Arts and Science category on the blog to find more, and to check out our NEA Arts magazine issue on art-science projects.

Brandon Ballengee peers into a light box that holds a reliquary with a colorful, mutated amphibian

Brandon Ballengee. Photo by Keita Funakawa

"It's an overused analogy, but the idea of just asking a question through a different lens is so important." — Brandon Ballengée

When visual artist and biologist Brandon Ballengée decided he could use his art practice to amplify what he was learning about extinction and the speeding up of the extinction rate in his work as a biologist.

Lisa Hoffman with two other people loading trash into bags alongside shallow waterway

Lisa Hoffman (right, with hat) out in the field for a McColl Center for Art + Innovation project. Photo by Mert Jones

“Sometimes when you're in the tyranny of the moment, you can't always see what [the solution] could possibly be, but scientists and artists are pretty trained at looking for the unexpected. And I think that's a unique shared skill each brings to the problem-solving experience.” – Lisa Hoffman

When the McColl Center for Art and Innovation hired a scientist, Lisa Hoffman, to direct their environmental and community engagement programs, which gets artists and the community involved in finding creative—and often aesthetic—solutions to local environmental issues.

Ainissa Ramirez uses a blowtorch and some wire to demonstrate a scientific principle at a TED Talk

Dr. Ainissa Ramirez gives a demonstration during  her presentation A Sputnik Moment for STEM education at a March 2, 2012 TED Talk. Photo by James Duncan Davidson

"Whereas science through its objectivity and rigor distills the human being out of ideas, the arts reconstitute science to include human beings." -- Ainissa Ramirez

When Ainissa Ramirez decided to embrace the art of storytelling as a science educator to inspire more people to get excited about science.

An African-American woman sitting in front of a white male, both in front of a mural showing a gorillia, catepillar, and butterfly.

Kortney Adams and Wesley Savick in Melinda Lopez’s From Orchids to Octopi, commissioned by the National Institutes of Health to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Photo by Elizabeth Stewart/Libberding Photography

"There are issues about science that very often don’t get expressed and don’t get discussed.... [having] to do with the moral dimensions of our research. We’re trying to find out what the human con­ditions behind science are, and that’s, I think, one of the greatest values that we have in the theater."  Alan Brody

When theoretical physicist and novelist Alan Lightman and playwright Alan Brody decided to start a monthly salon for scientists and theater artists on MIT's campus, which eventually blossomed into Catalyst Collaborative@MIT, which supports theater productions about the culture of science.  

Photo portrait of visual artist Rachel Sussman

Rachel Sussman. Photo by Laura Holder

"We all live transdisciplinary lives; no one thing defines us. So why not embrace transdisciplinary work? Whatever your field, there is always value in some outside perspective." -- Rachel Sussman

When photographer Rachel Sussman embarked on a years-long project to photograph the world’s oldest living things. Along the way she not only met a lot of scientists and learned a lot of science, but she helped scientists across fields to connect with each other around ideas of longevity and permanence.


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