Building connections between seemingly disparate areas is one of the joys of being an artist. It’s also one of the biggest challenges. Conceptually, artists are trained (or train themselves) to look at topics from multiple angles and to build relationships that express the nuances of the proverbial “human condition” (one of my least-favorite artspeak terms, though it seems appropriate in this context). We take input from the world around us, process it through the lense of our personal experiences and knowledge, then spit it out in some novel way as artwork.

Art schools are generally pretty good at giving artists artistic tools, but the focus tends to be on traditional art-making practice and thinking. Even new-media programs seem to focus on accepted art and design technology, such as Adobe Photoshop and the like. But what happens when an artist wants to expand their research into scientific fields, or access big data? The tools are out there, but the learning curve is so steep as to be seen as insurmountable. I’ve heard from multiple artists that they’d love to access primary sources of information, but dont know how or where to look. Consequently they end up relying on possibly inaccurate second- or third-hand information, with the caveat that it’s okay because it’s art, not science. To a certain extent that’s true: (probably) no one’s going to die if an artist uses bad or incomplete data. However, art can expose and educate us to experience and information in ways that no spreadsheet could, and it connects us to each other by making us aware of perspectives that may differ from our own.

Here at GSU, the art program exists under the umbrella of the School of Arts & Sciences, but there is rarely any overlap unless an individual student wants to take an elective class or slog through the paperwork and approval process for more detailed extra-departmental collaboration. But then the artist is limited to the schedule and interest level of their collaborator, who is busy with their own research and agenda. So it seems that the best way for the artist (aside from a team of dedicated collaborators) is to access the data themselves. It’s certainly possible, there’s a heckuvalot of data out there, and the scientists seem to have no issue accessing it, with tools and technology dedicated to specialized information tasks.

But where does the artist start who wants to consider census data from 1792 with geographical markers? How do scientists make those beautiful infographics that correlate environmental legislation with global warming trends? How do I use ArcGIS or Google Earth in my artwork? How do you make abstract animations in Processing that interact with viewers based on body movement? How do 3d scanners work, and how can I use those scans to create artwork? What type of 3d scanning should I use for a particular project? Is 3d-printing technology useful for art yet?

As a SIF, I’d like to begin to bridge these gaps by collaborating with SIFs from geostudies, archaeology, computer science and elsewhere to create artworks using their technology and information tools. Once prototype projects have been completed, I’ll present the documented process used to achieve the results to artists who are interested.

Nathan Sharratt