When I posted about the biocreativity blog on the Ecological Society of America’s listserv Ecolog back in July, I got a lot of replies from biocreative people who are doing some really great work at the intersection of art + biology. I’m happy to say a short series of featured artists from my Ecolog interactions are finally making their way onto the biocreativity blog! I hope this series will serve to illustrate the many ways in which artists and scientists are using their talents in the modern world, to provide inspiration to any of you readers who are considering picking up the biocreative torch and to give artist-scientists (both experienced and new) a platform to showcase their work.
The first featured artist-scientist is aquatic ecologist and sculptor Gary Grossman, professor of animal ecology at the University of Georgia. Gary and I ‘sat down’ for an e-interview this week to discuss his work, his inspirations and his advice for new biocreatives.
[biocreativity] Hi Gary, welcome to the biocreativity blog! Tell me about the type of work do you do.
[GG] I am an aquatic ecologist who works on problems of community organization, population regulation and resource use (i.e. habitat and dietary selection). Artistically, I am a stone carver who works primarily in harder stones like marble and limestone but also in softer stones such as alabaster and steatite. I love learning new things and I love teaching students that are interested in learning. Several years ago I developed a Natural History of Georgia course that is a large lecture course for non-science majors. I have had more fun teaching that course than any other course in my 30 years of teaching. Introducing students to science and making it fun is a great experience.
[biocreativity] Where do you see yourself on the biocreativity spectrum?
[GG] My primary training is in science and I did not start making art till my late 40’s. Since then I’ve decided that this whole left-brain right-brain classification scheme is not really helpful and may inhibit people from trying activities on the other side of the spectrum.
[biocreativity] Well said, I quite agree! That leads in to my next question, which is how do you view the interaction of the arts and sciences?
[GG] Conceptually, art and scientific research have an identical goal, which is to see the world in a completely new way. Before I started carving I wrote poetry for about 10 years and there were very strong similarities between a great poem and a great scientific paper – both succeed by reducing complicated topics to easily understandable prose that has high impact. The same is true for my sculpture which is cubist abstract in form. I seek to reduce a form to the minimum necessary for visual recognition while retaining a visually and tactilely pleasing form.
[biocreativity] What you said about your sculpture reminds me a lot of Charley Harper, who was known for having said of his bird art, “I count the wings, not the feathers.” What inspired you to begin your work in sculpture?
[GG] After many years of wanting to do art but thinking that I had no talent, my wife bought me a book on soapstone carving, 20 pounds of soapstone, and a set of hand tools. I was hooked and have left a trail of dust in my wake ever since.
[biocreativity] I think a lot of people are trepidatious about getting into art for the same reason you described. What is your advice for others considering a foray into the arts?
[GG] First, don’t ever be afraid to make art and second, art is for you and for no one else. There is no better feeling than making a piece of art and being completely satisfied with it. It is exactly the same with writing a really good scientific paper, you read it and feel, “I am just incredibly happy that I made this.” The joy of creativity is likely the same for all creative outlets and is one of the true pleasures of life.
[biocreativity] That’s stellar advice! I’ll have to remember it next time I get a rejection notice for a scientific article! What is next for you in the art-science realm?
[GG] I’ll keep carving, there are lots of pieces that I would like to make. I would also like to mention the therapeutic/meditative value of sculpting. I stopped writing poetry because it kept me “in my head” which is where I am all day for my scientific work. For me, carving is an intuitive process that gets me out of my head completely and keeps me in a completely experiential mode. So when I carve I free myself from all my day time stresses and worries and just work on the stone to the exclusion of everything else. Hours can go by and I don’t even realize it.
[biocreativity] Thanks for talking with me about your work, Gary. Before we close, where can the biocreativity blog readers go to learn more about your work?
[GG] I have a web site but it’s mostly out of date. I am mainly using Facebook as a platform for my work because it has such a large audience. Readers can go to my Facebook sculpture portfolio to see some of my work or friend me on Facebook to see a greater sample. I’m the only Gary Grossman with a sculpture for a portrait photo.
Stay tuned for the next ECO Art + Science feature and if you’d like your work (or someone you know) featured here, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it!