I have been organizing files on my computer this morning and I came across the essay I wrote to get into college, and thought it would be worth reprinting here. When I wrote this, I had no idea of the direction my life would take me; I was planning on studying poetry intensively (which I did) and applying to an MFA program right out of school. But even then I realized how important the sciences were to my interests, including my creative interests. Now I work in a field in which I am allowed to do precisely what had inspired me to write this essay in first place: to work with the aesthetics of scientific material. This essay has not been edited or “touched up” at all, so please excuse the incidents of incorrect word usage, etc.

An often unexplored relationship within the academic community is the direct and beautiful tie between the sciences and the arts.  From the moment we begin studying, we are pegged as “arts” students or “math-and-science” students, and too often the public education system denies us opportunities to dabble in subjects which are not of our chosen fields.  Instead, the few of us who are passionate about both fields are simply asked to settle for our “favourite” side of academia, or the side on which we are most successful.  Assigned the “arts” category early in my studies because of my love of the written word, I had frequently underestimated my passion for science.  However, only weeks ago did my realization of this unfortunate schism take place at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

I wasn’t aware of a temporary exhibit which was to be taking place at the time of my visit, by the title of “Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900.”  Having recently taken several courses in photography, I entered the exhibit with a heretofore piqued curiosity, but was unprepared for its personal connection to my own interests.  This exhibition featured hundreds of works from photography’s birth in the 19th century with unique and scientific subjects; there were photographs of lightning and close-ups of celestial bodies, of microscopic bacterial components of human and animal anatomy, early x-rays of physical anomalies, and even early “moving pictures.”  The subjects were singularly beautiful in all their scientific glory, from perfectly symmetrical, florid cross-sections of frog intestines to tiny, multiple-exposure pieces chronicling the travel of the moon in black-and-white detail.  To me, these photographs aimed to accomplish something that I had previously thought impossible—they bridged the gap in academia to find beauty and art within the precise complexity of science.

Further, upon my return home from San Francisco, I viewed my present reading material, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, with new curiosity and a mind for the way he, too, blends seamlessly his science—as a naturalist—and his art—as a writer.  As a writer myself, I found the conjunction of these two works, the photography exhibit and Walden, to be an inspiring and heartening influence on my own work, invigorating my desire to unite the sciences and the arts in ways that the public education system had previously forbidden me.  It has helped me to rekindle my long-lost love for science (as I had been deemed an “arts” student in my high school) and to truly realize the electric potential of rectifying the arts and the science to find true beauty—and truth—within my art.

Further Explorations:

Brought to Light at SFMOMA

from SFMOMA blog

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