Art From Unexpected Places

Art doesn’t care that you have an 8 am-to-10 pm job

You may be wondering why a physics student would feel the need to discuss art. To explain this, one would have to rewind time a little. At the age of five and a half, an unexpected series of fortunate events led me from Morocco to France, a blue suitcase in one small hand and a teddy bear with iridescent wings in the other, holding tightly to the memory of a life about to take an irreversible turn.

Fast forward a few years, I find myself studying Photonics, the very field I always told myself I would never feel passionate about it. The subject of my research is the behaviour and manipulation of light, so it is very fitting that I developed a keen interest in photography. After all, there is one small leap between making particles levitate and photographing your friends, who are only slightly bigger particles.

Uprooted dandelion replanted in foreign soil, art became a constant, immutable friendly companion that I could always rely on. The need to be and stay creative is universal, and physicists are no exception. It is commonly understood by scientists that every system in the universe strives for equilibrium. But according to the concept of entropy, achieving this state creates chaos; perhaps, then, as I sought my own equilibrium, art is the form I chose my chaos would take. Finding my place in the world proved to be difficult. But playing with lenses, colours, and light? That, I could do. The final ingredient was having a story worth telling.

Photography by Oumaïma Belouali

“If science defines our material existence, art gives it a life, a consciousness,” states Arkadip Basak. In short, art gives life meaning. This inherent complementarity explains why an overwhelming number of scientists incorporate art into their lives, not as a way to escape their work, but to achieve a complete version of themselves.

Leonardo Santos says: “Much of what I produce artistically comes from what I observe from science. Therefore, I draw my art from science as a way to deepen what I've learned.” But treating science and art as two separate entities might not be entirely accurate. An affinity for science and an affinity for art may be indistinguishable from each other. Arkadip Basak agrees: “Sometimes, I use my algorithms to make my travel photos look better. Sometimes, I use my knowledge in design to make work presentations. So, depending on the need, I can be a scientific artist or an artistic-scientist.” The human mind, just like a prism, is capable of diffracting knowledge into both art and science, and the separation between the two disciplines is all but clearly defined.

Photography by Oumaïma Belouali

If there is one common practice scientists won’t follow, it is to perpetuate the compartmentalisation of human behaviors, interests, or personalities into rigid categories. Why spend your entire life on a single wavelength when you can wander across the entire spectrum? The depth of the human experience is worth discovering. It is with this mindset that Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, two engineers, joined the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman in their quest to study the relationship between art and science. The organisation of Experiments in Art and Technology, created in the 60s, was the first of its kind, but it paved the way for many more collaborations to come, strengthening the bond between artists and scientists. After all, as Leonardo Santos says, “Science is nothing more than the art of understanding the things around us and using that knowledge for the continued progress of humanity.” Artists and scientists both share this aspiration: to shine a new light on the world and find means to share that vision.

However, where science is ever-changing rules, art is freedom. This may well be the major difference between the two: if science is rigid in its form, art does not have to be technically perfect. Art doesn’t care that you have an 8 am-to-10 pm job (because your supervisor is a stranger to the concept of a 35-hour workweek). Art doesn’t care if you have the talent, the knowledge, the practice, or even the adequate materials. Art only cares about your drive to make it.

Written by Oumaïma Belouali