Touching the Earth: the Role of Art in Scientific Thinking

Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Katharine V Cashman1, Emma Stibbon2 and Rodney Harris1,2, (1)University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom, (2)Spike Island Print Studio, Bristol, United Kingdom
Historically, geologists have used drawing as a tool not only to record observations but also to engage with the landscape and the materials from which it is constructed. Although geology students are still taught to keep field notebooks, the emphasis on drawing has given way to training in digital tools such as photography and GIS. Has this change altered our perception of our environment, and, thereby, affected the ways that we pursue scientific questions? We address this question through conversations – in the laboratory, studio and field – between artists and scientists that show that we (1) engage with the landscape both rationally and emotionally, (2) are attracted to earth materials because of their form, color, physical qualities and origin/history, (3) overcome technical challenges to realize an end result from an initial idea, (4) struggle to achieve a balance between critical faculties and creative insight, and (5) must communicate ideas, often before they are fully formed, to potential funders. Importantly, we find that the act of rendering (in 2D or 3D), and the ways in which the trace of the hand on paper (or manipulation of clay) engages a part of the brain that is not used in computer-based activities. At the same time, a geological understanding of earth materials enhances their metaphorical applications in the arts. Taken together, these conversations lead us to suggest that more cross-disciplinary training – training scientists in art and artists in science – would not only allow us to explore common themes from different perspectives, but could also create new ways of doing both art and science. Here we provide some examples, such as (1) the importance of drawing for moving from looking to seeing (observation to understanding), (2) ways of engaging perceptions through experimentation, (3) how to reveal the hidden by combining microscopic and macroscopic views of earth materials, and (4) using art as both a language and an interpretive tool. Viewed pragmatically, these examples address the scientific challenge of sketching conceptual ideas in a way that is convincing to both ourselves and to others. More broadly, we explore what may have been lost to earth science by eliminating formal training in drawing, and what might be gained by re-introducing the arts into the earth science curriculum.