SciArt Thursday: A Cellular Self-Portrait

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Heather just finished her self portrait assignment in printmaking, and while others studied pictures of their faces from all angles, she picked up a cell bio text and studied other aspects of self. Her rationale and a few of my thoughts about science and art are below the fold.

I thought her statement was both insightful and poetic:

I am an animal. I am a human. I come from a long branching line of beings, descending in a progression from prehistoric, mammalian, ancestors. Before those ancestral creatures, existed an even longer, and more branched, line of prehistoric plant, and bacterial life. My self-portrait, my identity, is the cell. We all share this identity whether we believe in differing religions, or have differing social, economic, and political backgrounds. It is within all living beings sentient or not. Some beings are made of only one. I have many, in various forms, with various functions. My dog, the trees outside my window, the woodpecker I hear in the distance, even the slime growing on leftovers in my refrigerator. We are all, the cell.

I attempt to convey in my self-portrait that we are governing bodies made of bureaucratic systems of cells. They lobby for rights to control our bodies at any given time. I represent two different types of cells, at once working in unison and opposition. This tension and union made visible, with positive and negative spaces, forming multidirectional lines. I know what my cells want because they motivate my choices; they are my choices. Yet sometimes they put me in conflict with myself. Eating, sleeping, or peeing are decisions to act, that are made prior to my analytical awareness, and whether or not I am in a position to accomplish any of those actions.

Micro-cellular life mirrors macro-life in every way. I look through a microscope and see them doing and being. Then I look up and see people around me. I realize a sense of sameness between worlds. Suddenly I can imagine the earth from above and all it's components doing and being. Beyond that the planetary bodies, the universe and the ever- increasing increments of mass and size. Are there cells on other worlds doing and being, as are mine, at this very moment? These are thoughts the viewer could have when looking at my self-portrait.

My identity is part of a universal identity, unhindered by subjective ideals or imposed ideological modes of thinking. It is a self-portrait of an identity that cannot exclude and does not change with time, politics, or society. It is, and that is all.

The second print in the series will be - what else - plant cells of all types, in the same style. It took her over a week to carve out the huge sheet of linoleum she used to press this image, but I'll post it when it's inked.

It's neat to see ideas we bounce around offhand come to fruition in such a tangible way. Science and fine art rarely come in contact, mostly because artists - especially young artists - are searching inside for inspiration, using their talents to express emotion or to describe a connection (or disconnect) between them and other people. At least, this is the propagated stereotype. I think that, on some level, artists want their audience to believe that they have tapped into some deep, ineffable creative motivation; it gives them a mystique that sells. The plain truth is, that art is a skill like any other. Its outcome is potentially a consciousness raiser, but the actually crafting process is more plebeian than most would think.

I've always loved this quote from Isaac Asimov, who obviously saw the necessary traits in common between artist and scientist:

How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.


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Wonderful article and the art and comments by your friend are fabulous...thanks so much!

By Carl Muecke (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink

Very phenomenal, exceptional, woow. How can anyone look at your work and not appreciate the scientific and creative ocurances which brought us all into existence!

By Tiara Francis (not verified) on 01 Mar 2008 #permalink