The Leonardo Scientists' Working Group

Leonardo has made a commitment to revitalize its connection to scientists, an effort begun in earnest about a year ago, with the announcement of Robert Root-Bernstein's guest editorship of the ongoing special section "ArtScience: The Essential Connection." But why would Leonardo, the journal for arts, sciences and technology, need to revitalize this connection at all? Perusing the 2005 issues of Leonardo reveals a partial answer to this question: Artists' contributions that explore technology, with a clear emphasis on new media and biotechnologies, dominate the journal. Among the smaller number of contributions from scientists, we find an emphasis on physics and math. We barely sample the vast world of the sciences, and thus we limit the ways scientists and artists can communicate and collaborate deeply with one another.

The relative paucity of contributions by scientists is reflected in Leonardo's reach outside the journal. As the interest in science among artists has grown over the years, so has Leonardo's institutional commitment to these artists, as demonstrated in its coordination of panels at conferences, the co-sponsorship of conferences, and awards to groundbreaking artists. By contrast, our institutional collaborations have not yet extended into the scientific community---in part due to the lack of organizational structures to facilitate the work of scientists with a deep interest in the arts. To put it bluntly, scientists interested in the ArtScience connection are lonely, finding themselves isolated in their workplaces without like minds to communicate with.

To formalize our commitment to bring more scientists into the ArtScience conversation, Leonardo's governing board has initiated the formation of a Scientists' Working Group (SWG). To begin, we are creating a database of scientists interested in the arts. This database will potentially serve several purposes, including providing a mechanism for artists to find scientist collaborators. The database will include those whose work does not fit within Western scientific norms; it will also draw from disciplines other than math, physics and biology, most traditionally linked with art and aesthetics. By contrast, I, as a chemist, have an interest in bringing the paradigms of synthesis, transformation and molecular representation more overtly into the conversation between art and science.

An extension of the database will be the creation of an on-line discussion forum for scientists seriously committed to working at the intersections of science and art. The discussion in the current SWG provides a glimpse into some of the issues of concern to such scientists: the desire for a greater emphasis on (pure) science as opposed to technology in the artistic community; a need for a greater emphasis on conceptual, rather than visual, aspects of science; what scientific rigor means in an artistic context; and how to create forums for true ArtScience interdisciplinarity.

While more and more artists have committed themselves to exploring, applying and critiquing science, most scientists still hover on the borders of this vast territory. The burst of energy we saw in the last decade of art based on science has become a simulacrum, a reiteration of itself, precisely because there is so little communication between artists and scientists. Leonardo is the exemplary organization to catalyze another relationship between science and the arts: one that supports true interdisciplinarity and returns to the pre--19th-century conception of the phrase "arts and science," which lies outside the paradigm that produced the culture wars. We look forward to continuing this conversation with our scientific and artistic colleagues.

Tami I. Spector
Leonardo/ISAST Governing Board of Directors
Professor of Chemistry
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

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