Balancing Act: Bridging the Traditional and Technological Aspects of Culture through Art Education
Lawton, Pamela Harris, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table
It is often easier to dwell on the dissension and problems created by difference than it is to find consensus between dissimilar groups with varying modes of thought. It is my intention to find the common ground shared by scholars and educators in the visual arts and sciences through an examination of how digital technology acts as a bridge creating balance between the two.
While the intellectual snobbery C.P. Snow (1964) (1) wrote eloquently about nearly fifty years ago still exists between scholars in the arts and sciences, advances in technology, namely digital processes, have built a tenuous bridge connecting the interests and concerns of these two disparate cultures creating a hybrid, visual culture, in which art and science harmoniously coexist.
On the science end of the spectrum, graphic illustration and digital technology are used to "visualize" data, as Tufte (1983) (2) writes about in his seminal text, Envisioning Information. Tufte, described as the "Leonardo DaVinci of Data," states that "at the heart of quantitative reasoning (science/math) is a single question: compared to what?" (3) Tufte presents data in a variety of visual formats and suggests that truth and clarity involve layering detailed information into proper relationships by using differences in shape, value, size and color. (4) This visualization of data and naturally occurring phenomena enables scientists to more accurately predict and measure trends in cause and effect and to more concisely depict information in ways that may be clearly understood by the layperson.
Tufte's recent book, Beautiful Evidence, continues his narrative of images as evidence and explanation. "Science and art have in common 'intense seeing,' the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information. Beautiful Evidence is about 'how seeing turns into showing,' how empirical observations turn into explanations and evidence presentations." (5) Arnheim (1986) said: "Drawing, painting and sculpture properly conceived pose cognitive problems worthy of a good brain and every bit as exacting as a mathematical or scientific puzzle." (6) Tufte (1994) describes designing information as "cognitive art" that works "at the intersection of image, word, number, art." (7)
Global positioning satellites allow us to view and receive images in great detail, quickly, from almost any point on earth. The effects of global warming and other environmental anomalies have become easier to understand, predict and correct because of this digital technology. In the medical field, lifelike computerized mannequins that may be programmed to simulate a variety of physical ailments assist medical trainees in developing diagnostic skills. In forensic science skeletons may be visualized as actual flesh and blood beings by artists using digital technology. On my college campus, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, there is an excellent example of how science and art through digital technology work together.
The Visualization Center, a department within the College of Science and Technology, is a place where the principles and concepts of computer science, art, architecture and communications intersect. The department's mission is "to develop and promote the science of visual analytics and to advance interactive visualization as an integrative discipline that is indispensable for attacking key real world application." (8) Course titles include: visual communication in computer graphics and art, illustrative visualization and information visualization. Courses are interdisciplinary and descriptions are designed to attract students from a variety of disciplines. For example:
Computer Science: Broaden your understanding of all things visual, and how that can be applied to your work; see new ways of communicating information; interact with artists, and learn to understand their language; learn some useful, non-technical skills. …