Last week I had what I hope will be a life-changing experience.
This fall I had the honor of being a juror for an exhibit of insect-inspired art, called ECLOSION, hosted by Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin, Texas. The event was organized by Hayley Gillespie (Art.Science.Gallery. founder) and Barrett Klein, both biologists/artists. I’ve known Barrett for quite a few years, ever since he was a graduate student in one of my classes in Arizona; his brilliant melding of art and science was one of the reasons I was so pleased to help out with ECLOSION. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you must look at the Damselflies of Texas field guide which Barrett illustrated – it’s gorgeous.)
[Note: all images in this post are courtesy of Art.Science.Gallery.]
The opening of ECLOSION coincided with the 61st annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in Austin. I have been going to these meetings intermittently since my first one in 1981 in San Diego. I have always enjoying catching up with old friends, and seeing what cool research folks were doing, especially that being done by graduate students and junior faculty members. But the ESA meeting last week was special for me because of two talks in a “Broader Impacts” symposium. The first was by Hayley on “Using art to enhance your science” and the second was by Barrett called “Entomoart: the power of esthetically communicating entomology”.
I had a very strong emotional reaction to these two talks, and at one point I am sure the smallest tear might have been visible in my eyes to anyone who looked closely. I sat there, as Hayley was talking, thinking, “What have I done with my life? Why am I not doing my artwork anymore?” I suppose in part the answer is the hectic pace of my biological work, which seems to leave little time for me to re-enter the world of art. But as I was sitting in the audience I realized that I must return to my art, and I have vowed to do so. This is just too important to me not to. Hayley’s and Barrett’s talks also made me realize how important art can be not only to inspire scientists in their work and inspire people to be scientists, but also to inspire artists to appreciate the wonders of science and the natural world.
Re-energized, the next day I took the bus over to Art.Science.Gallery., and saw the exhibit in person. It was fantastic. There were some gorgeous pieces there, in both two and three dimensions. Some of these were art that conveyed scientific knowledge about insects, others presented in a dramatic fashion messages about conservation biology or invasive species, and others celebrated the striking form and beauty of insects.
Although there were many pieces that appealed to me, I’ll mention only a few.
Barrett Klein’s “Biodiversity” is a pie-chart showing the relative diversity of various groups of organisms, with a representative of that group used to “label” that slice of the pie:
I really liked the sparseness of “Differential Grasshopper 3 (Melanoplus differentialis)”, created by Inked Animal by painting parts of dead grasshoppers with inks and pressing those against the paper; it is thus like classical Japanese fish prints but done with insects.
Pen Brady’s beautifully composed images of animals, drawn in a style reminiscent of northwestern First Nations cultures, were very inspiring:
This bronze bowl by Jessee Smith, inspired by galleries made by bark beetles, captivated me by its design, texture, and weight; it was so comforting to look at and touch:
In addition to static art, the exhibit featured video art, including this beautiful one by Barrett:
The importance of melding art and science came to me not only through Hayley and Barrett’s talk and the ECLOSION exhibit, but also through a chance encounter with a former student, Bruce Noll. Bruce took my Systematic Entomology class when I was but a wee junior faculty member, 19 years ago. Bruce is a poet who does dramatic interpretations of Walt Whitman, and who is fascinated by insects. After all of these years it was delightful to see Bruce, with his quiet and gentle passion. Bruce intermingles entomology or phylogenetics into his poems, which appear regularly in American Entomologist. I realized, as I was talking to Bruce at the airport on my way home, that he too was part of this message I was receiving in Austin to return to my artistic roots.