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The Art of STEM

The Art of STEM



The trajectory of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and art exhibition, from high school to professional gallery spaces.

The trajectory of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and art exhibition, from high school to professional gallery spaces.



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  • This presentation traces a trajectory of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and art exhibition, from high school to professional gallery spaces. My interest is not only in academic and professional modes and practices of inquiry but also cultural and vernacular works by artists in underrepresented communities of practice... that are largely missing from academic discourse and whose works may hold a key to motivating people with low participation in STEM areas.
  • The National Science Foundation recently awarded three cities part of an Art of Science Learning grant: San Diego, Chicago, and Worcester. The Phase 2 grant is titled “Integrating Informal STEM and Arts-Based Learning to Foster Innovation.” Info: http://www.mass-creative.org/the_art_of_science. Other NSF-funded projects include Art As a Way of Knowing (Exploratorium) and Art of Science Learning. However, as I recently discovered, there is a much longer history (in my lifetime) of art and STEM creative collaboration and exhibition.
  • "Whether painting in a studio or experimenting in a lab, artists and scientists are often doing the same thing –searching for answers to puzzling questions about the world in which we live. Through The Art of Science, a unique art competition for high school students, The New York Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation have challenged young artists to visually express their views of science and technology through an original work of art. The result: abstract concepts–like gravity, loss of motion, vastness of space, and evolution–spring to life." –Introduction, 1988
  • For this competition I was sponsored by a high school art teacher to create my own idea of science and technology using computer-generated graphics. It was selected by a jury and featured in the brochure. This was the same year that I took my first computer graphics course and produced a portfolio that earned me a merit-based (full tuition) scholarship to Pratt Institute in New York City. Re-discovering this work from the past and images of me learning how to create scientific-based art on a computer helps me to link my current research to recent initiatives.
  • With the resurgence of art and science learning –i.e., the STEM to STEAM movement– I find it interesting and timely to find this brochure. Unfortunately, an online search led to no other mentions or artifacts from this high school competition but I did find a few recent academic and professional level exhibitions.
  • Mathematics as the raw material for art: In a recent Paris exhibition, prizewinning mathematicians teamed up with contemporary artists to inspire works that bring intangible concepts to life. "Mathematics - A Beautiful Elsewhere," at the Fondation Cartier, Paris, sought to provide an "answer to the abstraction of mathematics". For "Universe coming from Zero," (2011) and other works David Lynch collaborated to create an arrangement of visuals and installations that show the diversity of mathematics and, in particular, its contribution to the most advanced areas of scientific research.
  • The Art of Science competition hosted by Princeton University includes work by undergraduates, faculty, research staff, graduate students, and alumni. Professional artists like Hiroshi Sugimoto work with mathematicians to transform and combine the aesthetic, scientific and educational aspects of mathematics into a tangible experience. I cover Sugimoto's work for Art21. Sugimoto created a hyperbolic form entitled a "Surface of revolution with constant negative curvature" that reflects the elegance of the abstract thinking expressed by mathematicians. Sugimoto’s work asks the inevitable question at the heart of this project: how can mathematical abstraction be represented?
  • “Nowhere Differentiable,” a new exhibition at The Simons Center for Geometry and Physics gathers the work of five artists who explore and/or exemplify these concepts from various diasporic perspectives. Each artwork presented alludes to mathematical constructs while simultaneously transmitting calculations vital to the past, present, and future through storytelling and material culture. Info: http://scgp.stonybrook.edu/archives/6042.
  • Looking at the works in “Nowhere Differentiable” I found that I could link art by artists (many who are of color) that suggest natural phenomena (seeds, clouds, trees), cultural and vernacular forms, and a variety of STEM-related concepts.
  • These and similar artworks are explored by contemporary artists who express their visions in ways that obliterate their cellspaces, or identities to return them to the infinite universe. This domain captures work presented in museums and galleries as well as on city streets (graffiti).
  • From these works you get the way in which these artists are inspired by STEM concepts as well as the various ways in which they reinterpret these frameworks to fit their own conceptions. Dr. Kenneth Wesson writes that, ”the brain likes and looks for patterns – it doesn’t have to work as hard when it recognizes a pattern.' Patterns are also one of the brain’s primary ways to process new information – it looks for information it already knows to “make new information fit.” Visionary artists re-interpret these patterns (and other ideas) in different ways. In the print on the left indigenous artist DhalmulaBurarrwangareferencesmaterials that are essentially extensions of the (sea). Walworth uses these natural elements to create posters for augmented reality simulations. Download/install the free mobile app and posters (see above). By using the app people have daily access data feeds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealing the threat of high sea temperatures confronting these incredible, fragile coral ecosystems. Info: http://coralrekindlingvenus.com/augmented-reality
  • [T]he making of a meaningful world engages a set of preexisting forms, but only in relation to a set of personal dispositions of a particular knower. The emergent world is a coming-into-knowledge of another world that already exists. This is the Murngin version of culture’s twice-born character, the ceaseless flow of semiosis, inside-out and outside-in, linking culture in the world and culture in the mind. –Bradd Shore, “Culture in Mind,” p. 379
  • Anthropologist Howard Morphy explores this knowledge system in Yolngu art and he notes how European interest in this art has caused certain changes in the conditions of its production. Outside knowledge for Yolngu (according to Morphy) is analogous to inside knowledge which is secret and sacred. There are layers to this knowledge — indicated by the kinds of art that is created in indigenous and underrepresented communities. The inside significance of the art has not changed; it retains its dual ability to represent and to constitute relationships between things. I can see this visually (see image above) — moving from painting/printing ancestral narratives and designs to personal, non-sacred art and augmented reality (avatars) — and this idea can generate new art with these layers (see Yung Jake).

The Art of STEM The Art of STEM Presentation Transcript

  • The Art of STEM Expressing science, technology, engineering &mathematics concepts through art and culture. By Nettrice R. Gaskins
  • The New York Academyof Sciences, 1988Left: Dawn Kachele. “P.T.C.A.”; Right: Dirk Lough. “Thoughts.”
  • “Art of Anatomy,” 1988Left: Nettrice R. Gaskins. “Art of Anatomy”; Right: Jefferson County Public Schools publication.
  • Photos by Olivier Ouadah
  • Left: Jerry Ross. "Xenon Plasma Accelerator," 2010. Courtesy of Princeton University; Right: Hiroshi Sugimoto. "Mathematical Forms:Surface 0009"Conic Surface of Revolution with Constant Negative Curvature", 2007. Courtesy of Fondation Cartier.
  • Top Left: Bill Gaskins. Tamara and Tireka, Easter Sunday, Baltimore, MD, 1995; Bottom Right: Tim Portlock. Farm, 2011.
  • Left: Yayoi Kusama. “Accumulation #1,” 1963. Courtesy of the artist; Middle: Saya Woolfalk. “The Empathics,” 2011. Courtesy of theartist; Right: Sanford Biggers. “Ghetto Bird Tunic,” 2003/2006. Courtesy of the artist.
  • Top Left“No. 19 H. S. W.,” 1956. Gift of Sally and Wynn Kramarsky. © 2012 Yayoi Kusama; Bottom Left: Moneyless. “Per Aspera AdAstra,” 2012. SOZE Gallery.; Right: Dorothea Rockburne. Universe Series, 1994-1999.
  • Left: Dhalmula Burarrwanga, ‘Garrung (coral)’, 2012, screenprint. Printers: Dhalmula Burarrwanga and Annie Studd; Right: LynetteWalworth. "Coral Rekindling Venus (Coral RV)," 2013.
  • Left: Gunybi Ganambarr at at Annandale Galleries (Sydney). Photo by Renee Nowytarger. Source: The Australian; Right: SWARTE.“The Freedom of Yolngu,” 2013. Photo by SWARTE.
  • culture + cognition + vernacular + mobile technologyLeft: Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, ‘Birrka’mirri’, 2012, linocut. Printers: Annie Studd and Ruby Djikarra Alderton; Middle: MikeyGurruwiwi, ‘Ngarra’, 2012, screenprint. Printers: Mikey Gurruwiwi and Sean Smith; Right: Yung Jake. “Augmented Real,” 2013.