Core concepts: a model curriculum for collaborative creative research in art, design, engineering, and science

Meredith Tromble, Associate Professor
School of Interdisciplinary Studies
San Francisco Art Institute
August 15, 2012

David Bates, Director, Berkeley Center for New Media,
University of California, Berkeley
Jesus Beltran, Filmmaker, Zumpango Films
and Mechanical Design Engineer, Palo Alto
Marina McDougall, USA
Sarah McMenamin, Postdoctoral Fellow,
Evolutionary Biology, University of Washington, Seattle
Miriah Meyer, USA
Susan Schwartzenberg, Senior Artist,
Exploratorium, San Francisco

“…knowledge has to be organized so that it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized…this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of the knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from the outside. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos…” ! !
— novelist William Gaddis

There is now a significant opportunity to investigate the relationship between contemporary scientific research and contemporary art, recasting our understanding of their relevance to each other in terms that bear on university education. Contemporary art’s emphasis on critique, invention, paradox, and nonlinear thinking has made it an uneasy fit for educational systems rooted in a rational, modernist world view. Widespread cultural mythologies about the creative process, inflexible disciplinary silos, and metrics of assessment rooted in 19th century conceptions of knowledge continue to make art a misfit in university curricula. But scientific developments — in complexity and network theory, neuroscience and cognitive theory, evolutionary biology and social theory, all underpinned by digital technology — offer the opportunity to discuss and assess art in new terms. At the same time, in contemporary art the notion of art as inquiry, as a form of research, has taken hold. Art offers a “laboratory” for exploring issues such as the role of images in social intelligence and individual mentation, embodied cognition, decision-making processes based in intuition, and the conditions that nurture innovation. This white paper will outline areas where research in contemporary art and science might intersect, take into account significant differences in their research practices, and use this outline to frame a model cross disciplinary curriculum designed to prepare artists, scientists, engineers, and designers for fruitful collaborations. A draft will be formulated and circulated to a pool of advisors including educators in each of these areas, and their feedback factored into the final paper.