In 2010 I began a series of portraits of people engaged in intellectual pursuit. The intention was to engage, in a visual form, with what is the most conspicuous feature of Homo Sapiens – their capacity to think. This was at a time when I had come to meet a number of scientists through my two daughters, one a neuroscientist, the other a marine biologist. I had also come increasingly to believe that supporting the work of our scientists is imperative in countering a rising tide of superstition and irrationality. Also, I am personally something of a ‘frustrated scientist’. As an erstwhile student of mathematics, it could easily have been my career. In redressing this, it is an ambition of mine to push my work in the direction of some fusion of the two disciplines of art and science.
The portraits in this series are all executed with the subject’s eyes closed. This puts the focus onto the inward nature of the scientist’s work, while presenting a meditative and thoughtful visage. With the eyes closed the portrait becomes less about the subject’s personality than about their work. To further enhance this, a pictorial representation of their field of endeavour is placed in the hands, brilliantly lit in vibrant contrast to the human figure. Ultimately the portraits will be displayed as a large group in exhibition. Publicity will emphasise the collaborative nature of scientific work. The message is that the quiet, ongoing work of scientists, in the interests of our common good is something to be applauded. These are the heros we need.
SCIENCE AS ILLUMINATION
In the early 17th century Francis Bacon described scientists, or natural philosophers, as ‘merchants of light’. I am producing a series of portraits, each depicting an individual scientist within the pictorial context of their field of study. In them, light becomes a metaphor for knowledge. The aim is to produce a series of images, each of which shows some facet of the work of scientists. The images portray the human behind the work but emphasise the illumination inherent in that individual’s mental endeavour. The portraits will form a cohesive whole in exhibition format, demonstrating that science is intrinsically a group venture but one which relies on the mental labour of individuals. Scientists do not hold the public recognition their work deserves. We live in a society deeply indebted to the work of scientists, yet their presence in the public consciousness is mostly eclipsed by sports personalities, movie actors, popular entertainers and even politicians. Without science civilisation would likely remain in the gloom of ignorance.
Since C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures lectures of 1959 there has been an ongoing debate on the significance of both the divisions and the unities between the two broad disciplines of Sciences and Humanities. In particular, there persists a misconception that science is not an area where arts practitioners ought to venture. Occasionally artists venture into the world of science, usually by utilising new technologies, or by exploring the aesthetic potential of some field of research. They are in this way consumers of science, using the products of science to further their work. Similarly, scientists like any members of society are consumers of the products of artists. They may read literature, listen to music and view visual artworks. The impact of these encounters on the mind of the scientist may at times affect their approach to their work. I believe there is room for a closer collaboration between the two disciplines. Scientists often work creatively and artists often employ analysis. Both are essentially humanists. Both are frequently passionate about their work. Both sometimes suffer misapprehension in the broader society. Most importantly, both disciplines work with their minds to help illuminate some facet of the human experience.
All discovery is an act of illumination. In science a hypothesis seeks to establish a verifiable conclusion from the accretion of evidence. This throws light on an assumed truth, contingent until assailed by further evidence. An artist’s work seeks to illuminate some sort of truth, but one which appeals to a variety of human faculties (senses, emotions, memory etc.) rather than simply to reason. Unless reason is all we can rely on, this appeal is legitimate to all people. Scientists also have hopes, experience love, are struck by inexplicable awe. The aim of this project is to bridge the gap by working in both fields. I intend to investigate the hypothesis that the ongoing collaboration by all scientists is the act of illuminating that which was hidden – that science is the world’s biggest art project, and through it the world is slowly coming into sight.