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SciFiles: The Intersection Between Art & Science


KMUW will be hosting Science Friday in September, and to get ready we'll be hearing a series of science-related essays over the next 12 weeks, exploring many of the different aspects of science that Science Friday covers.

In this SciFile, we hear from ceramic artist Jessica Balu about the intersection between art and science.

A recent study at University College London found that the brain of a mathematician reacts the same way to a beautiful equation as it does to an exquisite work of art or musical composition. Science and the arts are often considered to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. We tend to think of them as left brain versus right brain, analysis versus creativity. But the highest degree of art requires thoughtful analysis, and the leading edge of science is highly creative.

In reality, the two are so closely intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable at various periods in history. What is most fascinating is that these tend to be the most productive periods in history, often resulting in a paradigm shift in both areas.

Consider the Renaissance period. It’s obvious that the work of artists like da Vinci was informed by the mathematics of perspective and the sciences of optics and anatomy. What may be less obvious is the degree to which mathematicians and astronomers of the time were influenced by an intuitive sense of beauty. When Copernicus first introduced his heliocentric model of the solar system, the only proof he offered was an aesthetic one—that the Ptolemaic model he hoped to replace required “ugly” mathematic assumptions, and therefore could not have been conceived by the perfect mind of God.

From the time of the ancient Greeks, through the Renaissance and Enlightenment, right into the present day, it is often a quest for beauty that drives the forward thinkers of each generation to crave new knowledge and perspective. Now, as scientific knowledge becomes ever more complex, art continues to play a vital role in translating the enigmatic and increasingly abstract language of science for the masses.

Jessica Balu is a local ceramic artist.