To some, combining the arts and sciences may seem a difficult task, but for one University of Iowa course, it’s the focus of the semester.
John Freyer, assistant professor in the School of Art and Art History, and Cornelia Lang, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, have teamed up for the art seminar class In Visible Light. The photography course examines the links between science, photography, and the visual arts.
Freyer and Lang—who are neighbors and friends—realized their individual art and science research overlapped in certain ways, and they decided to teach the class together. Both were familiar with CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors, which are used in digital photography and optical astronomy.
“The sensors have revolutionized astronomy and photography and how we make our work,” Freyer says.
The students, 14 in all, are assigned readings from books exploring the connection between the arts and sciences, and the class examines images from artists and scientists. Students also study the increasingly relevant cultural dialogue between scientists and artists, and explore the intersections between early scientific photography and contemporary digital imaging technologies.
The class also participates in weekly discussions and each student produces a final portfolio in the medium.
A graduate seminar class is offered each semester in the School of Art and Art History; students from all disciplines can register for the class. “There is a lot of overlap between photographers and their practice and scientists in a way that predates the kind of disciplinary structures we’re familiar with today,” Freyer says.
The students also pair up with a faculty member on campus in the science field to complete an art project. Freyer says the project gives students a chance to engage and interact with “real live scientists.” The students interview the scientists and researchers and create a project based on the information from the interviews.
Some students have even used their artistic skills to help the UI scientists. Allison Welch, a graduate student in photography, is working on a project consisting of photographs of numerous nightstands and the owners’ rankings of the importance of the items on their nightstands.
Welch paired up with John Spencer, a professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who researches spatial perception. Welch says Spencer could create computer models of the photographs and use spatial perception tests to study the relationships of the objects and how they are placed.
“It started off as just a photography project; now it’s becoming quite involved in the sciences,” Welch says. “I never thought of working with the sciences before. That work’s being done across the river—I thought it had no connection with my own work. It’s quite the opposite.”
As the semester continues, students will get a chance to explore more projects. The class meets every Tuesday night.
“Students have this opportunity to look across the University and find out the kinds of resources available that we didn’t even know about,” Freyer says. “It’s really about building bridges between the arts and sciences.”
by Ashton Shurson
For more information about the class, contact John Freyer at 319-335-0466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.