Saturday, April 23, 2016

Week 4

As mentioned in this week's lectures, the medical sciences and the arts have been in conversation for hundreds of years, from anatomical illustrations to x-rays (Vesna). On a certain level, many medical procedures carry with them a certain aura of the artistic. There is something ritualistic and aesthetic about a nurse methodically wiping down your arm with an alcohol wipe prior to drawing your blood.

Silvia Casini writes about the experiential nature of undergoing an MRI, emphasizing the acoustics of the process as separate from the visual imagery of the internal body itself. As someone who underwent a CAT scan in a sedated state (and never got to see the subsequent images taken of my body) my experience with body imaging technology was entirely audio and tactile. From the technician talking to me to the odd, warm metallic sensation one feels after being injected with the dye, it was aesthetic in a wholly non-visual context.

My CAT scan experience was not visual in any sense, but rather audio/tactile

The intersection of medicine, art, and greater social contexts have produced an incredibly interesting body of work. Donald Ingber's work regarding cell structure engages architecture, medicine, human biology, and sculpture in order to work at fundamental questions about our internal microstructure that have medical implications. Eduardo Kac's piece, "Time Capsule," raised questions about data collection in regards to one's own memories and body that have only become more relevant in an age when everybody carries a smartphone capable of both identifying their location as well as storing large amounts of data regarding their own personal life.

Donald Ingber's ability to physically model/sculpt possible cell architectures has transformed our understanding of cell structure.

I am personally interested in the ways in which art and medical technology can work to improve quality of life. Diane Gromala's virtual reality work, in which she uses VR environments combined with other methods in order to combat chronic pain, is especially compelling. As somebody who identifies as nonbinary and am close friends with many other individuals in the transgender community, there are a number of medical procedures that engage with the performativity of gender expression and alter the appearances of individuals in ways that affect them positively. The concept of gender expression as performative rather than innate opens up a wide array of medical possibilities for creating certain gender affects in individuals. These procedures greatly improve the quality of life of these individuals, and in this way the merging of the medical and the aesthetic has profound implication for well-being.

Medical technology has made it possible for transgender and non gender-conforming individuals to have surgery in order to improve their quality of life.
Casini, Silvia. "Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as Mirror and Portrait: MRI Configurations
     between Science and the Arts." Configurations 19.1 (2011): 73-99. Web.
Gromala, Diane. "Curative Powers of Wet, Raw Beauty." TEDxAmericanRiviera. 2011. Web.
Ingber, Donald E. "The Architecture of Life." Scientific American. January 1998.
Kac, Eduardo. "Time Capsule." Web. 23 April 2016.
Vesna, Victoria. "" UCLA. Online.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Week 3

     The rise of industrialization in the West posed a threat to authenticity and originality, both in general and eventually extending to the art world. The advent of the factory system ushered in an economic era characterized by warehouses of identically dressed employees carrying out identical menial tasks.
  Eventually, many of these tasks were automated, and anxieties about increasing reliance on technology and the loss of one's individuality amid the factory system culminated in the "robot." I, Robot presents a world of robots identical in appearance (Proyas). Their homogeny is unsettling. The one "good" robot, Sonny, is less threatening because he is uniquely positioned, free from the obligation to follow Asimov's "three laws." Efforts have been made to construct robots that are capable of mimicking human emotion, a movement to make the concept of a humanoid robot less threatening, more "like us" (Hanson).


Sonny's being separated from other robots makes us feel more comfortable about him.
     Many of these anxieties about new technologies carried over into art. Walter Benjamin expressed concern over the loss of authenticity (and "aura") that accompanies mass reproduction of art (Walter). As Douglas Davis pointed out 30 years later, we are still obsessed with authenticity, and the advent of the internet has provided innumerable opportunities for new forms of art (Davis). Digital art forms have not subsumed traditional art, but rather have risen alongside and, often times, in conversation with them.
      In a merging of the "robot" with other forms of digital art, webcomic author Jeph Jacques tackles the possibility of a world with sentient robots in Questionable Content. The treatment of artificially intelligent robotic individuals is treated as a social issue, on par with gender discrimination or racism (Jacques). In this way, robots become a vehicle for the concerns of our time, where issues of social justice have risen to the forefront via social media.
     Though initially a proxy for collective fears about the loss of individuality amid a burgeoning new world of technology, the robot has transformed alongside us, becoming a way to critique human rights issues. In the same way, technology's growth has only created new mediums for art, rather than threatening it.

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Illuminations. New
     York: Schocken Books, 1969.
 Davis, Douglas. "The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (An Evolving Thesis: 1991  
     1995)." Leonardo 28.5 (1995): 381. Web.
Hanson, David (2009, February). "Robots that 'show'
Jacques, Jeph. Questionable Content. 2003-2016.
I, Robot. Dir. Alex Proyas. Perf. Will Smith and Bridget Moynahan. 20th Century Fox, 2004. DVD. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Week 2

     The way that mathematics and the arts influence each other is conversational. Much of "classic" art would not be possible without mathematics. Marc Frantz's lesson on vanishing points reads like a geometry textbook, accompanied by diagrams outlining various angles and viewpoints. Without the advent of perspective in the arts, many of art history's most famous works would not exist (Frantz 3).

A figure from Frantz's lesson, outlining one-point perspective.

Raphael's School of Athens would not have been possible without the principles of perspective.
     Aside from the visual arts, mathematics have also influenced literature. In his work Flatlands, Edwin A. Abbott describes a world based in two-dimensional geometry in order to illuminate the plight of women and the poor in Victorian society (Abbott 1). That mathematics have the capacity to critique social ills runs counter to the popular notion of mathematics as an objective, passionless field.

     The dialogue between the arts and mathematics runs opposite as well, with mathematics used to analyse an already-existing work of art. The discovery that Jackson Pollock's paintings employ fractal dimensions, particularly ones that have been shown to be aesthetically pleasing to humans, offers another level of complexity to a seminal body of work (Ouellette).

Jackson Pollock's Number 14, a painting that employs fractal dimensions

     In a beautiful example of the meeting of math, science, and the arts, Margaret and Christine Wertheim have spearheaded a project where they, along with volunteers, crochet life-sized coral reefs in order to raise awareness of climate change. Their project is made possible by the fact that coral reefs have a geometry (hyperbolic geometry) that can only be modeled by crocheting. If it were not for the intersection of geometry, biology, and the arts, there would not be such a striking opportunity to address issues of global environmental change (Wertheim).


One of the Wertheims' coral reefs

Ultimately, mathematics are both a tool in the arsenal of artists and writers, as well as an inextricable component of naure. Art capturing the aesthetics of nature must necessarily pass through the lens of mathematics. As talked about in this week's lecture, the golden ratio is found in numerous works of art and architecture (i.e. the Parthenon) as well as in the natural world (Vensa). This displays how arbitrary the separation between math, science, and the arts is. They're all based in similar or identical processes, perhaps with different methodologies, but ultimately utilizing the same tools. There is a beauty in that. A testament to the universality of matter, the geometry in a coral reef, or the evolutionary biological tendencies in an abstract painting.


Abbott, Edwin Abbott, Valerie M. Smith, and John Allen. Paulos. Flatland: A Romance of
     Many Dimensions. 1884. Web.
Frantz, Marc, and Annalisa Crannell. Viewpoints: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal
     Geometry in Art
. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2011. Print. 
Ouellette, Jennifer. "Pollock's Fractals." Discover Magazine. 01 Nov. 2001. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Vensa, Victoria. "" UCLA. Online.
Wertheim, Margaret. (2009, February). "The Beautiful Math of


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Week 1 Blog Post

          "Two cultures" puts a name to a disconnect that has troubles me as a university student both studying biology and with an interest in the humanities. While C.P. Snow was instrumental in constructing a formal analysis of these two cultures, it is interesting that his work was situated in a context of class struggle. He states in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, "...the gap between the industrialised countries and the rest is widening every day. On the world scale this is the gap between the rich and the poor" (Snow 43-44). As a poor non-white person studying science, contextualizing the conflict between these two cultures within issues of economic justice is necessary.
     Victoria Vesna's article, "Toward a Third Culture: Being In Between" outlines attempts and issues with creating a "third culture" bridging the gap between the two cultures. While Vesna rightfully critiques Deleuze and Guattari for making use of scientific language in a literal sense that is often incorrect when examined under a rigorous lens  (Vesna, 124), I think we must ask, too, what philosophy can do for science. A Thousand Plateaus broaches the topic of evolutionary biology in novel ways that I believe are useful to the field.
     While Kevin Kelly uses "nerdism" as an example a third culture in the modern world, I argue that the "nerdism" still idolizes science and scoffs at the humanities, though it depends on them (Kelly). I see evidence of the third culture in visual arts. Consider the recreation of "Starry Night" on a petri dish, Ernst Haeckel's scientific illustriations, or the sculpting of trees into works of art.

by Melanie Sullivan, of Missouri

Ernst Haeckel - Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 37: Siphonophorae

      As a minor in science education, I am concerned that the public is largely ignorant of science. I was troubled, however, that the symposium held at the New York Academy of the Sciences focused on this, rather than also highlighting the two cultures of C.P. Snow. It seems odd that his lecture was co-opted to enlighten of a different issue (Williams). I preferred Ken Robinson's talk, where fostering creativity is presented as a way to create students that are prepared for the a dynamic world (Robinson).
     I am excited about the ways in which the humanities both borrow from and contribute to the sciences. I am tired of the animosity between the two cultures, and hope this class will foster a "third" culture. 

Tree/Chair Sculpture, by Pooktre


Kelly, Kevin. "The Third Culture." Science. Vol. 279 (1998), Issue 5353, pp. 992-993.
Robinson, Ken. "Changing Education Paradigms." 2010. Web.
Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Vesna, Victoria. "Toward a Third Culture, Being in between." Leonardo, Vol. 34, No.2 (2001), pp
Williams, Christopher M. "A Dangerous Divide: Two Cultures in the 20th century." The New York     Academy of the Sciences. 2009. Web.