The Artist as Scientist

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Shira Brisman
Artist as Scientist
Seminar 1, 9:30–10:45 TR
General Chemistry I
Lecture 5, 8:50–9:40 MWF; Discussion 393, 3:30–4:20 TR; Lab 693, 11:00–2:00 W
Western Culture: Science, Technology, Philosophy I
Lecture 1, 12:00–12:50 TR; Discussion 308, 4:35–5:25 T

Picture this: a drawing of conjoined twins in a womb; an instrument for measuring geological time; a calendar proscribing when to go to war. Art and science—though often positioned as separate modes of inquiry—in fact are motivated by shared goals.

Focusing on the period of 1450 to 1650, from the birth of Leonardo da Vinci to the death of Galileo Galilei, Art History 105: “The Artist as Scientist” invites a historical approach to understanding how the energetic pursuit of knowledge spawned both inventions that celebrate human creativity and discoveries that exposed the elegance of nature. Taking as our organizing principles three areas of scientific study—the Body, the Land, and Outer Space—we will pursue such topics as:

  • pre-modern anatomical treatises;
  • medicinal plant manuals;
  • advice treatises on sex and conception;
  • Renaissance-era robots and machines;
  • tools devised by cartographers and astronomers; and
  • the first engravings of the moon as seen through a telescope.

Our class will meet in various location on and off campus: in the Special Collections of Memorial Library, in the Ebling Library, in the Chazen Museum of Art, the Zoological Museum, the Geology Museum, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. We will be thinking analytically and designing and making models of sixteenth and seventeenth-century planetary maps in a collaborative setting. Assignments will include descriptive writing, historical research and presentation, drawing, and model-building. Readings will include texts from some of the greatest historians of art and science as well as articles from recent journals and newspapers. Students also will be encouraged to incorporate what they are learning in their other FIG courses into our analysis and discussions.

This FIG invites students interested in art history, the history of science, mathematics, science and technology, medicine, philosophy, the culture of early printed books, or anyone lured by beautiful and strange things.

Chemistry 103: “General Chemistry I” — Introduction to stoichiometry and the mole concept; the behavior of gases, liquids, and solids; thermochemistry; electronic structure of atoms and chemical bonding; descriptive chemistry of selected elements and compounds; and intermolecular forces.

Integrated Liberal Studies 201: “Western Culture: Science, Technology, and Philosophy I” — Examines the emergence of scientific method and scientific modes of thought out of ancient philosophical and religious traditions; the impact of ancient science on medieval Christendom; and the origins and development of the Copernican-Newtonian world view.