On Art & Science

For some reason 'the intersection of art and science' has been on my mind a lot lately. It probably stems back to our Ignite! Festival in October when we actively pursued those who were trying to merge art and science and give them a venue to display their work.

But it's much more than that. Googling 'intersection of art and science' gives you a plethora if incredible images and stories. Artists, in the ever-present battle to push boundaries, are increasingly turning to science in order to help them get their messages across. Engineers are enlisted to help make sure that a sculpture can stand. Paints are constantly being reformulated, by chemists, for superior colour replication, UV resistance, and to aid drying times. Technological advances improve the quality of cameras, more advanced computer animation is made possible by better processors, and so on.

Those are the direct correlations between art and scene. Science improves something, so that artists can make better use of it. But what about the other side? Does art improve science?

We have a new exhibition in our LWJ gallery right now - a photographic exhibition from Regina businessman Todd Mintz. In addition to being a partner at MWC Chartered Professional Accountants, Mr. Mintz has built a reputation as a world-class nature photographer. How world-class? He's been featured at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC; I certainly consider that to be world-class. In addition, his photos regularly win awards, and he's been featured on the National Geographic website and in Canadian Geographic magazine.

His photos show animals in their natural habitats, doing the things that animals naturally do. It's most certainly art. But is it science? Why are we, a Science Centre, showing these works?

I think it is science. On one level, many studies have been done to show that what we perceive as beauty is a result of complex mathematics: proportions, ratios, etc. There's also the technology involved in the production of the work - cameras get better, more advanced clothing means that Mr. Mintz can stay out in the cold longer for his Arctic shots, and better aircraft and snowmobiles means his expeditions can reach places further afield than ever before. There’s also the delivery medium to consider: these photos are printed on aluminum sheet for a truly unique finish. But we don't talk about these things in the exhibition, we just show the photos.

There's something more at play here.

Consider this: I've heard about the salmon runs in BC. To me, it looks like a lot of fish swimming in a river. But Todd's photos make it seem real. He's IN THE WATER with the fish, they're swarming past his camera, which is partially submerged, and I can see just how dense the fish are in that small cross-section of water. It makes me think: how many of these fish will make it to their destination? How many will lay eggs successfully, and be able to make it back next year? Will a bear eat them on the way? Will they be caught by fisherman?  

Each of those questions form the building blocks of a new experiment or research study, which will probably raise even more new questions. If I catch one of these fish and put a tracker on it, can I find out where the fish goes when it isn't spawning? Maybe a study, or several studies, have already been done on this topic? Can I get a book on them to learn more? What websites can I visit, which researchers can I email to get the answers to the questions that I have?

There is a stunning image of a human skull guarding the entrance to an underwater cave in Indonesia. What kind of culture sets out real human skulls? Was this a warning? A threat? Was this a person of significance who is being honoured, or a criminal who has been punished? Who knows the answer to these questions? How can I learn more?

Art is generally very pleasing to the eye. But good art, GREAT art, makes us ask questions. Amazing art inspires us to act. As another Earth Month looms on the horizon, does seeing a striking image of a polar bear make you curious about their natural habitat and how it's changing? Does the image of a fox resting on a stack of pipes make you curious about your own impact on the environment?

I believe that art has a profound impact on our lives, and I also believe that art can inspire science. Please come down to the Science Centre before March 6th to see these incredible images and find out what questions they make you ask.