Collaging and titrating, Picasso and Newton — what counts as art opposed to what as science, and those who are artistic versus those who are scientific, have always been easily differentiated. That is until recently, however, when David Edwards, a biomedical engineering professor at Harvard, suggests that the conventional separation of the two disciplines may not be as clean-cut, and the line between the artist and the scientist may not be as clear as what might have been previously perceived. In fact, Edwards explains that the artist and the scientist may be, if not the same, similar in a very fundamental aspect: their process of “figuring things out.”1
Edwards recognizes that the artist and the scientist both engage in a very creative process beginning with an idea that through endless engagement eventually comes the creation, be it a painting or a scientific discovery.1 This shared creative process, Edwards also realizes, is often forked by “moments of crisis” in which the artist and the scientist may become uncertain, confused, and stuck, but altogether and eventually enlightened with an improved idea.1 To Edwards, the artist’s and scientist’s way of resolving the problems that obstruct the creative process, and thereby innovating, is an incredibly common, intuitive, and analytical quality that fuses both arts and the sciences—a process he calls “artscience.”2 Edwards defines artscience as the backbone of innovative thinking, and a necessity to producing creations of lasting impact in a generation in which innovations are pushed for like never before.
The recognition of artscience has encouraged Edwards to closely examine its creative potential in Le Laboratoire, a contemporary art and design center located in Paris. Since 2007, Le Laboratoire has curated exhibits reflective of the innovative works at the cutting edge of science resulting from collaboration between artists and scientists. Among some of these is a project called “Cummulus,” a recent collaboration among Argentine architect Ciro Najle, renowned engineers, and water experts in Chile that creatively tackles the challenges of global water distribution.3 “Cummulus” features both aestheticized and innovative cloud-like fog nets that aim to provide global access to fresh water. Easy to sustain and operate, the collection and production of filtered water via the fog-collecting nets presents an invention of monumental importance.
Consistent with Le Laboratoire’s focus to translate ideas out of the laboratory and into practical use and impact, the contemporary art and design has also catalyzed collaboration between the biomedical engineer, Edwards, and Mathieu Lehanneur, an industrial designer that examined another approach for filtering air.4 With the polluted urban settings of today in mind, Edwards and Lehanneur visualized and materialized “Bel-Air,” a design that integrates absorptive plants to maintain a reliable filter capacity.
By bringing together artists and scientists, Edwards has encouraged a creativity that has materialized into concrete application with the potential for global importance. By overlapping the methods of art and science, Edwards essentially brings together information and ideas from new territory, and the artists and scientists are pushed to think in an altogether different way. “By teaching kids who are pushed by specialization from natural ‘sideways thinking,’ to embrace what they already know intuitively,” Edwards says, “they inevitably teach us.” If Le Laboratoire is the kitchen of the creative chemistry between the artists and the scientists, then the fusion of art and science for Edwards is, in fact, the recipe for innovation.
- “David A. Edwards: ArtScience.” Video, 16:42. Posted by “WGBH,” October 30, 2008
- “What is Artscience?” The Artscience Prize, accessed June 14, 2012
- “Cummulus,” Le Laboratoire, accessed June 14, 2012
- “Bel-Air,” Le Laboratoire, accessed June 14, 2012
- Image credit (Creative Commons): “ArtScience Museum, Oculus,” Flickr, accessed November 4, 2012
Carrie Chui is a second-year student at the University of Chicago majoring in Biological Sciences and Visual Arts, and she hopes to find an intermediate zone between the two disciplines. Follow the Triple Helix Online on Twitter and join us on Facebook.