Putting the art back into technical disciplines

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Robert E. Kennedy Library is holding a discussion about art and science in the Data Studio titled “Under the Scope: Looking at the Body through Art and Science” on Oct. 3. Rita Blaik, who will be leading the discussion, will have her “Body Identity” exhibit on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art on Oct. 4.

Kelly Trom

A paintbrush and a microscope. A blank canvas and an empty microscope slide. A rush of inspiration and the excitement of a newfound discovery. These are the tools that professionals in both the art and science fields use to solve similar problems, albeit in very different ways.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Art + Design and Mathematics (STEAM) education is a national movement that aims to put the arts back into the national curricula. Ruta Saliklis, Exhibition and Development Director at San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, is invested in the idea that creativity, imagination and art are vital to education. In fact, she was looped into the conversation about Cal Poly’s discussion on the subject matter.

Cal Poly is hosting a discussion titled “Under the Scope: Looking at the Body through Art and Science” to start a conversation and open communication between the two very different fields of art and science this Thursday at 11 a.m. in the Data Studio in the Robert E. Kennedy Library.

“There is this intersection between art and these other disciplines where being creative — being an artist — is actually going to help a person be a better scientist, be a better mathematician, be a better engineer,” Saliklis said.

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) graduate student Rita Blaik is a multidisciplinary scientist, artist and dancer. She is a prime example of the overlap between art and science. Blaik will lead the discussion at Kennedy Library and talk about her background, which might mirror many Cal Poly students torn between their love of a technical discipline and a more artistic expression.

“Science was something that I was always really good at, but art was something that I always loved,” she said.  “I just happened to do really well in science when I was younger, so science was the natural track that my life was going (toward).”

Blaik almost gave up, but then took a material science course and found learning about science can be beautiful. She had dabbled in photography but did not take a serious interest in it until she stumbled upon a lecture the Art|Sci Center at UCLA was hosting. From then on, she was hooked by this new and intriguing concept of using both art and science to answer life’s many questions.

“I think that the reason why would you want (the arts and sciences) to be in communication in the first place is that (they) are solving the same problems in very different ways,” Blaik said.

Artists and scientists use complementary processes to answer difficult questions. These processes can be used to gain new perspectives and theories on the other field.

“Some of the best questions I have ever gotten about my work, and some of the things that have made me think the most provocatively about what I do, are questions asked to me by artists,” Blaik said.

Blaik works with materials that are on a nano scale. Questions about how the architectural structures look in real life and how they actually form are instrumental to Blaik’s research process, she said.

Contrary to most of her scientific work on a nano scale, Blaik’s newest art exhibit, which will be displayed at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art on Friday, will focus on portrait-style photography with a twist. The exhibit is based on a fact that she had read: There are more bacterial cells on the body than human cells.

Blaik wanted to capture how we think about ourselves and our identity when we learn of different facts such as that one — scientific representations of the body that capture a sense of identity in a snapshot.

Exhibits and discussions lead to opening the door to communication between the disciplines. Just knowing what is going on in the other field is a very important first step of integrating the two. Cross collaboration allows for artists and scientists alike to open up their minds and use new tools they otherwise would not have had, Blaik said.

The discussion at Cal Poly is designed for all majors to participate in and perhaps widen that door of communication between all of the different disciplines at the university.

“We weren’t trying to target a particular group. Everyone on this campus — a comprehensive polytechnic — is invited. Any student on this campus is the audience,” College of Science and Mathematics Librarian Jeanine Scaramozzino said.

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