Intersections of Art and Science

In Spring 2018, the freshman seminar Invention and Innovation: Intersections of Art and Science—taught by Catherine Riihimaki, Associate Director, Science Education, Council on Science and Technology, and Veronica White, Curator of Academic Programs, Princeton University Art Museum—focused on artists and scientists’ shared interest in careful observation, interpretation, and abstraction. Students selected the works on view here to represent two themes of the course: human figures and the landscape, particularly the ways their representation has been informed by scientific knowledge and artistic practice over time.

Pierfrancesco Alberti’s An Academy of Painters illuminated academic practice in Early Modern Europe, from its emphasis on classically derived proportions to studies from live models and dissections of cadavers. As part of a larger discussion on face perception and empathy, we examined the specific facial attributes of the subject of Diane Arbus’s A Child Crying, N.J.as well as our empathetic responses to the figure. In discussing the role of pseudoscientific theories in the history of slavery, we reflected on Carrie Mae Weems’s series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, which reinterprets archival photographs of slaves to give voice to individuals who were previously silenced.

Depictions of landscapes—real or imagined, photographic or painted—allowed the class to examine how artists and scientists suggest depth on flat surfaces, using such tools as linear perspective and cartographic techniques, and how different representations have captured our shifting relationship to the natural environment, particularly since the rise of environmentalism in the 1960s. William Garnett’s photograph Nude Dune, Death Valley, California reflects these interests in a mesmerizing scene that leaves the viewer disoriented but curious to know more, while Wilson Bentley’s Untitled (Snowflake) presents an example of the patterns in nature that have long captivated both artists and scientists.

Two screen prints by Josef Albers—arguably an abstract face and a landscape—bridge the two themes of the installation and capture many of the course’s topics: the subjectivity of human perception, the ways contrast provides context for the viewer, and the rewards of active participation and careful observation by both scientist and artist.

 

Catherine Riihimaki, Associate Director, Science Education, Council on Science and Technology

Veronica White, Curator of Academic Programs, Princeton University Art Museum

Students of FRS 114: Invention and Innovation: Intersections of Art and Science, Class of 2021

Aman Andemichael, Sophie Blue, Neha Chauhan, Matthew Fastow, Kevin Feng, Madison Lai, Nicholas Liu, Harley Lopez Miro, Asher Muldoon, Victoria Pan, Eno Reyes, Alessandro Tenconi-Gradillas, Keely Toledo, Nabil Yessuf