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Writing > Essays

Art and Science: Creative Solutions

Long before the scientific and artistic disciplines were established, humans tried to solve the riddles of the universe. Mysterious events and strange phenomena were explained in stories that took the unimaginable and made it understandable. These myths form the basis of our culture, and give us clues to the investigative nature of the human psyche. We pose questions to find answers for what we do not know, for what we can only imagine. Sometimes we look for proof, sometimes we rely on faith. Artists and scientists continue the investigative process started eons ago. Each group may not ask the same questions or be interested in the same solutions, but the curiosity, the need to question, and an involvement in a creative problem solving process are common grounds. Increasingly, there are new problems to solve while many of the ancient ones still remain.

The three elements defined earlier make up a small part of this mutually creative problem solving process. In Advice to a Young Scientist, Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar1 notes that these elements are true for anyone engaged in “exploratory activities.” His advice to the young scientist includes the development of desirable “virtues” such as application, diligence, a sense of purpose, the power to concentrate, to persevere. He also stresses the need for experimentation, both as a form of thinking and as a practical expression of those thoughts. The scientist experiments in a lab or in the field; the artist might experiment in the studio, the street, or the stage. The six artists in this exhibition, Art and Science: Creative Solutions are all engaged in exploratory activities that take them to the overlapping worlds of the studio and the laboratory. Book artist Daniel Kelm and photographer David Goldes were both practicing scientists before they became artists; sculptor Robert Lawrence and photographer Thomas Allen each continue artistic and scientific practices that began when they were children investigating natural phenomena; printmaker Elizabeth Hart and ceramic sculptor Elizabeth Crawford both process the abstractions of science through the specifics of personal relationships. All of these artists build their own connections between the known and the unknown. Each investigation follows a different set of problems and methodologies.

First published as an exhibition catalog for Art and Science: Creative Solutions, curated by Karen Wirth for the College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1996