Coevolution is a collection of inquiries, references, opinions and musings of the Nature and Inquiry artists group, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Various members of the group met to discuss science topics every week for nearly 30 years.

Each participant is an artist and each enjoys scientific information as the basis for their artistic work. Donald Burgy, John Holland, Margot Kelley, Amy Robinson, Nita Sturiale and Ron Wallace are members of the Nature and Inquiry artist’s group.  See the Members page for biographical information.

Donald Burgy is a visual artist and one of the founders of conceptual art in America. John Holland is a composer who heads the Digital and Electronic Sound Studio at Mass College of Art in Boston.

In the 1980’s,  Burgy and Holland began to meet informally to share ideas that intersect nature and art. Burgy was already collaborating with a scientist. They asked simple questions such as: Where are we located in space? What, exactly, is gravity? Is time continuous, incremental, or both? What is the origin of life? When, where and how did art originate? An attempt to rigorously answer these questions required an exploration of knowledge normally reserved for science. This is no small task for artists who have been professionally and culturally conditioned against this kind of detailed questioning. Over time they were able to build a shared vocabulary, and eventually an acquired knowledge base began to make its way into their artwork.

Several years later Ron Wallace joined the discussions. Ron is a former Mass Art graduate, artist, Frederick Law Olmsted scholar, and software engineer. In the mid 1980’s, Ron created an artwork in which he accompanied one person at a time along Olmsted’s entire Emerald Necklace in Boston, from the Boston Public Garden to Franklin Park, a nine-hour trek. He presented this walk many times for different people over a period of years. What distinguishes this event as an artwork, rather than a nature walk, is Ron’s ability as an artist to make deep connections at many different levels of observation and experience.

In 1993, Nita Sturiale joined. Nita earned Masters degrees from both Harvard and The School of the Museum of Fine Arts concurrently and is Associate Professor in the Studio for Interrelated Media at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her current areas of interest are in brain science, live events and motherhood.

More recently Amy Robinson and Margot Kelley joined the group. Amy is a Masters graduate from Mass Art, with a strong background in physics and chemistry from Wellesley College. Margot has an MFA in Photography and a PhD in English – she teaches and writes in the Boston area and recently published a photo essay book about Geocaching practice in the US.

The group frequently collaborates to share their work to the public through discussion evenings, publications, online projects and performances. See the Art page for more information.

Thoughts on the interconnections of Art and Science

The artist’s pursuit of an integration of the broad areas of Art and Science is a legitimate and inspired goal. And there are often many artists germinating these seeds within the culture. The integration of Art and Science is one of the most persistent ‘memes’ in the evolution of culture. Some of the earliest scientific ideas have come down to us in the form of artworks, such as calendars. In prehistory, written language, painting, drawing, sculpture, fibers, jewelry, ceramics, vocal and instrumental music, and dance were used to directly represent seasonal cycles and other patterns in nature, and to revealing our connection to them, both individually and socially.The separation of Art and Science seems to be a comparatively recent occurrence. Leonardo da Vinci is an obvious example of an artist who was engaged with scientific principles. The early Greeks recognized little separation between Art and ‘Natural Philosophy’. Benjamin Franklin’s many scientific experiments are legendary, and his letters and other writings are considered works of literature. He was, among many personalities, both scientist and artist. The transcendentalists (particularly Thoreau), Edgar Allen Poe (A Descent Into the Maelstrom, Eureka: an Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe), Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts (The Sea of Cortez) and even James Joyce (see his description of water on pgs. 671-672 of Ulysses), qualify as formative champions of relating Art and Science, to name a few.

In contrast, many artists today view science as ‘the enemy.’ A simplistic vision of ‘Big Science’, which supports and is supported by the military and by big business, has been a standard reaction among artists for over one hundred years, with its roots based in nineteenth century romantic idealism. Similarly, there are many scientists who passionately support the arts as long as the art doesn’t cross the boundary into the ‘hard’ sciences such as astronomy, physics, or biology. Artists will always be concerned with maintaining personal freedom and fighting the status-quo, while scientists must worry about the preservation of data from contamination which they have fought so hard to protect.

In spite of this divisive history, it is this group’s view that the ‘coevolution’ of art and science will proceed from the pressures brought about by individuals from both camps who share the long view. They hold in common the instinct to connect, unify, take risks, and explore new ideas and new ways of understanding and experiencing events that shape our culture.

Nature and Inquiry, 2006

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