Earlier this summer, Science World was delighted to host the opening of the scientific art exhibit, El Tatio Geysers, featuring the work of artist, Owen Perry. Having an artist in our midst provided us with a wonderful opportunity to discuss the fascinating role of art in science and science in art. Owen has some wonderful ideas on the subject and we were pleased to chat with him about the ways in which these brilliant pursuits inspire and support each other.
SW: Owen, you are coming to Science World as an artist. Do you think of yourself as an artist?
OP: To be honest, I’ve only been seriously into photography for a little over 3 years, so the term “artist” hadn't crossed my mind until recently. I’ve always sort of referred to myself as a photographer or a designer, rather than an artist.
Some might consider my work to be beautiful or emotionally powerful, but whether or not it’s art or whether or not I’m an artist, shouldn’t really matter. I’ve always thought and I continue to think that if you love what I love doing, then that’s all that matters. To me, maybe the “artist” is less a "classical painter" and more someone who cares deeply about what they do and produces work to the highest level that they possibly can.
To an artist, their art is a craft—sometimes a lifelong passion that’s taken many years to develop and define. Whether someone is a chef, carpenter, economist, doctor or a physicist, I believe it’s the substance and genuine dedication to their craft that makes them an artist and what they do an art.
So, perhaps if you define that type of person as an artist, maybe I’m that.
SW: Where, in your work, do you see the science? Is it in the motivation? The practice? The results? Or all of the above?
The influence of science in my work is more inherent than overt. I suppose I’ve always been fascinated by science and particularly influenced by science fiction, growing-up. We also have a science centre that I visited, back in Toronto, where I was raised and I remember those experiences fondly.
Science serves as my primary belief system and source of motivation when it comes to art and creativity. For me, science creates a limitless amount of wonder and amazement. This wonder—this beauty in the universe—is my primary motivation and it’s what I want to communicate and express to others.
SW: Do you think art and science align in their ambitions?
OP: When looking at a beautifully coloured image of a spiral galaxy or nebula from NASA, you’re often not seeing it as it was viewed by an astronomer. Our most precise and powerful telescopes don’t work like a DSLR or iPhone, which instantly produce full-colour images.
Instead, what we're seeing, when we look at this beautiful astrophotography artwork, is raw light spectrum data that has been analyzed and interpreted by artists who are trained to render this data into beautiful masterpieces. In this way, art and science work hand-in-hand to communicate to a mass audience, the wonder of our universe and, hopefully, to inspire peoples’ imaginations.
Perhaps more simplistically, science and art both rely on observation as their primary tool for creation. For scientists, it’s observing the outcome of an experiment or the spectrum data from a supernova that enables them to arrive at new discoveries and knowledge about our universe. For artists, it’s looking at the world around them and using their observations as a jumping off point for their next creative projects. Maybe, in fact, science and art require observation to exist at all.
Ha…when I thought of that something popped into my head regarding the philosophical thought experiment—when a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? So to analogize, if there is no scientist or artist to make an observation, do the tenets of art and science even exist? Do art and science exist even if exempt from observation?
I know…pretty meta.