The Artist looks at the Scientist’s World

C. S. S., 1954

This exhibition displays certain forms and textures indigenous to the modern research laboratory which are thought to have intrinsic aesthetic appeal to the non-scientist.

The scientist isolates simple aspects of the world for separate study. As far as possible he avoids complexity except by synthesis. His motivation is a desire to see order underlying the universe- the relationship between various phenomena- a motive closely akin to the artist’s search for fundamental unity. Though his standards are rigorous and exclude most of the artist’s perceptive truths, the scientist nevertheless derives an essentially spiritual satisfaction from contemplating the theoretical structure he builds up. The interplay and balance between physical laws, as displayed in the structure and behavior of matter and radiation, are quite as satisfying aesthetically as the interplay between color, form, movement, and human response which the artist enjoys.

The basic patterns of relationship and interactions in the physical world are reflected in the structure of matter, in the design of experiments, and in the form in which experimental results appear.

The objects on display were selected by a group of artists from the raw materials of science as found in the laboratory. Objects to which either artist or scientist have consciously given artistic form were not considered; nor was the rich field of technical illustration. There are many photographs, for photography is usually the easiest way to record the relationships disclosed by experiment. Many of these show aspects of the structure of matter not apparent to the naked eye but revealed either by magnification or by the use of some technique devised by the scientist to emphasize a particular feature. A metal, for instance, is lightly corroded in acid to show the crystal form, and a biological preparation is stained to differentiate between its parts.

The models that scientists use to illustrate their concepts often achieve the characteristics of abstract sculpture. Sometimes (as in the case of mathematical, molecular, or crystal models) these are shaped to express an idea. Sometimes the models are analogous physical systems composed of materials with carefully adjusted properties so that the equilibrium or adjustment of a system of forces may be seen more clearly. Such are soap bubbles, used both as models of atoms in a crystal and of crystal or cell boundaries in an aggregate. Other examples are the mapping of electric fields by hydrodynamic analogy and of stress fields by photo-elasticity.

The beauty of the scientist’s world is in some measure derived from the underlying more austere beauty of mathematics. In the current exhibit this framework has been clothed, given texture and color and perhaps for this reason may be more widely enjoyed.