Why This Matters: Both art and science seek to examine the world in order to explain how what we see and experience every day fits together. This connection provides Charlotte-area artists with inspiration for their work.
By Bernie Petit
Before she ever puts watercolor or pencil to paper, Charlotte-based nature artist and illustrator Leigh Anne Carter examines her potential subjects from multiple perspectives.
What does it look like at the different stages of its life? What is its purpose? How does it feel as a human to observe something that may be similar to her experience?
“These are all questions that are answered through art and science,” Carter said. “These answers impact how we see the world and what we feel is important.”
Carter’s process illustrates the striking similarities between art and science. In both fields, creativity, attention to detail, processing information and critical thinking are vital.
So is viewing the world through a lens of curiosity, said local sculptor Jonathan Pellitteri.
“Both artists and scientists are ‘askers’ of life’s important questions,” said artist Ingrid Erickson, who works primarily in cut paper. “We gather and present information to ask others to stop and reflect.”
Artists and scientists “share the same fascination and passion to discover and create,” said digital fabrication artist Madison Dunaway, one of the nine regional artists that participated in ASC’s 2017 Community Supported Art season.
That connection isn’t always obvious.
“I think there is a perspective that science and art are completely different,” Dunaway said. “The questions that drive both artistic and scientific exploration are very similar.”
For some artists, the artistic and scientific processes can also be comparable.
Last year, Erickson’s study of eagles, hawks and owls led to exhibitions at Carolina Raptor Center and the Cornelius Arts Center. In May, she spent three weeks at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, where she assisted a team of whooping crane biologists as a chick-rearing volunteer. To prevent the chicks from imprinting on humans, the biologists (and Erickson) wore full-body costumes, complete with puppet crane heads.
She saw a chick hatched, monitored and fed newly-hatched chicks in the intensive care unit – they spent their first 24 hours in an incubator – and soaked up knowledge from experts that work with the endangered species.
The result, Erickson said, is more than 2,000 photographs and “sketchbooks bursting with drawings and watercolor studies of live birds, eggs, radiographs, crane puppets, dummy eggs, skeletons, feathers and wings.” She will soon transform this visual information into a large-scale series.
Like Erickson, Pellitteri’s work is heavily influenced by his interest in science and the scientific method. Several of the subjects that interest him, such as waste water treatment, swamp ecology and the Catawba River, lend themselves to being represented visually with a scientific aesthetic.
His process, like that of a scientist developing and testing a hypothesis, requires imagination and restraint. He pieces together his observations and ideas into compelling compositions that leaves the artwork open to interpretation.
“I feel in this way, like a scientist, I am leaving my opinions out of the final product,” he said, “and allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions.”