By Trish Mihalek (7th grade Science) and Jennifer Fry (Digital Art)
What is the relationship between art and nature?
How do images seen in a microscope relate to our understanding of the natural world?
Science and art have been inextricably linked, documenting scientific discoveries through detailed works of art. For example, the exquisite illustrations of animals and plants in various media by celebrated artists such as John Woodhouse Audubon and Maria Sibylla Merian provided a glimpse into the natural, and often, unexplored world. The invention of the microscope, a simple lens attributed to the skill of a Dutch scientist, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, unlocked a world filled with moving organisms he called “animalcules”. Robert Hooke, using a simple compound microscope, observed and drew specimens depicted in his book, Micrographia, published in 1665.
What is the role of technology today for bridging the past and the present? Will art and science provide new insights into a greater understanding of our natural world? Students in seventh grade Life Science were asked this question prior to using devices to take photographs of specimens through the eyepiece of microscopes. Using these photographic images of “ordinary” materials, students shared their new-found sense of wonder and explored hidden worlds, similar perhaps to the experiences of scientific illustrators and microscopists in the past.
This new Life Science project was collaboratively developed with Hall’s Digital Art teacher. Embedded in this unit of study were important artistic thinking dispositions: engaging and persisting through the challenging process of capturing a quality, in focus image; observing which materials were the most interesting ones for photographing; and developing craft by using image adjustment tools to enhance contrast and color. Once the images were printed in color, students had an opportunity to select what they felt was their best image. That photograph for each team is on display in Hall’s front office.
With the remaining images, each class developed a large collage. Creating a collage on the face seems a simple endeavor; images layered with other images. On the contrary, collage-making, especially a collaborative collage created by a group of 25+ students, requires thinking like an artist. In this case, the most important concern was VISUAL BALANCE, the arrangement of individual elements so that no one part of a work overpowers, or seems heavier than any other part. Students were provided with specific guidelines to support the HOW of building a collage with visual balance: distribute texture density throughout; place colors next to each other that have harmony such as complementary or analagous colors; vary shape type; and repetition by placing similar looking images apart from each other rather than next to each other.
The interplay between science and art throughout this unit of study allowed a level of engagement and depth of experience beyond what could have been achieved as a singular departmentalized lesson. Perhaps the most beautiful takeaway is that there is art everywhere, even in what cannot be seen with the unaided eye. By using both artistic and scientific lenses to approach viewing the natural world, students developed a way of thinking which allows them to go forward seeing the two as inextricably linked.