Rice Unconventional Wisdom

Visual and Dramatic Arts - title
Visualizing Nature: The Art and the Science, to be offered spring 2014

Visualizing Nature IProfessor Geoff Winningham, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts, and Professor Adrian Lenardic, Department of Earth Science, have received AIF (Arts Initiative Fund) funding to develop an interdisciplinary undergraduate course combining earth science and visual art studying Galveston area ecosystems.

In the proposal to AIF, Professor Winningham and Professor Lenardic proposed to construct a new course for the spring 2014, followed by a month of evaluation, editing, and the production of an exhibition of photographs. The course would be jointly taught by Professors Winningham and Lenardic and open to 12 students. The subject of study for the course would be the landscape of Galveston Island and its adjacent wetlands and bays.

Visualizing Nature IIThe course, by necessity, will be experimental and improvisational in nature, as the two instructors will be working together for the first time and no comparable courses have been found at other institutions to provide models.  Still, certain issues, principles, and priorities have been considered. The pilot course will be an experiment in combining the scientific disciplines of the earth sciences with the artistic disciplines of creative photography to study the natural landscapes and ecosystems of the Galveston area. The course will combine classroom lectures, laboratory demonstrations, and extensive field trips.  Professor Lenardic will lecture on the geoscience of the area and do experiments in the field; Professor Winningham will use laboratory demonstrations to build students' skills in landscape photography and give illustrated lectures on achievements in landscape photography through the history of the medium.

Students will travel frequently, at times in pairs, other times in larger groups and as a full class, accompanied by one or both professors. Students will photograph with both traditional film cameras and current DSLR digital cameras, since both film and digital mediums hold unique and distinctive possibilities for photographing the landscape. 

For years, Professor Winningham and Professor Lenardic have exchanged ideas and speculated on the possibility of a collaborative course they might teach, exploring the interrelationships of scientific and artistic visions of the landscape. Grassroots discussion leads them to believe that a complete split of these two cultures (science and art) need not exist at a true liberal arts university.

"We fully realize that a joint course exploring the scientific and artistic representation of nature, populated by science and art majors, would be an 'experiment.' However, in our discussions of the idea of the course, we have brought to light some interesting observations that might help and guide us. The famous English landscape painter, John Constable, once noted: 'Why then, may not landscape painting be considered a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but experiments.'  One of the great landscape scientists, a geomorphologist, when asked to describe the methods of his science students should use to proceed in their inquires, put first on his list 'selective and concentrated observation.'"

More information on the class will be forthcoming on the Visual and Dramatic Arts website, arts.rice.edu.