Art.Science: Shedding a Scenic Tear

Last week I had what I hope will be a life-changing experience.

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Art by (from left to right) Matt Norris, Mindy Lighthipe, Marjorie Moore and Cornelia Hesse-Honegger;
layout by Tuan Tang.

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.]

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A portion of ECLOSION at 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:

Biodiversity by Barrett Klein

Biodiversity by Barrett Klein

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.

Differential Grasshopper 3 (Melanoplus differentialis) by Inked Animal

Differential Grasshopper 3 (Melanoplus differentialis)
by Inked Animal

Pen Brady’s beautifully composed images of animals, drawn in a style reminiscent of northwestern First Nations cultures, were very inspiring:

Returns the 5th of Fibonacci by Pen Brady

Returns the 5th of Fibonacci by Pen Brady

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:

Galleries by Jessee Smith

Galleries by Jessee Smith

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.

This entry was posted in Musings, Scientific Illustrations and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Art.Science: Shedding a Scenic Tear

  1. butterflydoc says:

    Thank you for the post, David. I haven’t attended an EntSoc meeting in years (moving to an UG school makes the other ESA a better calendar fit). But this exhibit was something that made me wish I could get there (I didn’t). I’m familiar with work of both of the curators (overlapped with BK in the Papaj lab, and met HG when the other ESA had their meeting in Austin)… thanks for sharing so that I could see some of what they showed, even though I couldn’t actually get there.
    -Cheryl Heinz

    • You are welcome, Cheryl!
      Art.Science.Gallery. will be producing an illustrated catalogue of the works on exhibit, so stay tuned… You might want to check the gallery’s web pages every once in a while, or contact Hayley.
      – David

  2. Pingback: ECLOSION | November 9 – December 1, 2013 | Art.Science.Gallery.

  3. David, it would be to the world’s great benefit for you to produce more art work. I would personally revel in the opportunity to see some modern-day Maddisons!

    I’m touched that my talk and ECLOSION inspired you to reflect in such a genuine and moving fashion. I embrace stimuli that cause me to reassess my priorities and I never wish to feel entirely settled or content. Your new-found vow is a noble one and I fully support it.

    cheers, barrett

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