Pieces of a Puzzle Why Art and Science Matter to Conservation Posted on January 22, 2015 by UPLLC

As both an artist and a scientist people sometimes ask me, “How does art affect your views on science?” or “Does science find its way into your art?” I’ve thought about these questions often but rarely responded with an answer that gets to the heart of the connection between the two. The simple answer is that they are the same thing, or at least, the boundary between them is porous. This is not the answer that most people expect when they ask the question. When I started my graduate program immediately after leaving a six-year career in music, it felt as though I were switching gears completely. For the first two or three semesters of intense science curriculum, the world of art and science seemed totally unconnected. It wasn’t until I began to design my experiment that it became clear: science is an art in itself.

My graduate research centered on the conservation of a single tree species, the shortleaf pine. Declining in all of its habitats east of the Mississippi, it served as an inspiration to try to explain why it continues to survive in areas where it is still abundant. Through my research, I discovered a great many things about the species and its’ associated habitat, diseases, and pests. With the fact-finding complete, now I had to find an appropriate question to ask. This is nearly identical to the process that I go through when composing a song. I know which songs already exist and I don’t want to replicate them, so I must ask a novel question and then try to answer it using an appropriate set of lyrics, melodies, and silences. It is the novelty of the question and the brand-newness of the answer that are the main ingredients of art.

In order to be an effective scientist or artist, there must be a curiosity about the way things work and an awe of things unknown. Usually, the process begins with a question that has no discernible or published answer. The clever scientist designs the experiment as thoughtfully as a composer writes a sonata; each note carefully chosen so that nothing sounds disharmonious. Both art and science require the ability to create something seemingly from thin air. In researching and designing an experiment, the subject matter is examined, re-examined, studied, and manipulated in order to create a brand new piece of human knowledge. This is also what defines art. In delving so deeply into one subject in particular, the unknown reveals itself, lush and full of mystery. The artist/scientist steps into the inky void of the unknown, retrieves a small piece of it and brings it back for the rest of us.

For me, inhabiting the seemingly at-odds worlds of art and science, it is landscapes with their flora and fauna that continue to inspire me to ask new questions. The music and art of every place on the planet is influenced by its landscapes. From the windswept plains of Mongolia to the lush forests of Ghana, art conveys and reveals the love and pride of a landscape and people’s connection to place. Conservation of such places means that art thrives, science thrives, and the land thrives. They are woven so tightly together that when one is transformed, the rest follow suit.

– Written by Justin Robinson, Unique Places, Forest Ecologist

 

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