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Alexander Fleming (1888–1955), the biologist who discovered penicillin, harbored an inner passion for the visual arts. He was responsible for launching the golden age of antibiotics when he discovered a certain culture of mold could actually kill disease-causing bacteria. But he couldn’t shake his artistic impulse. Dr. Fleming found time to develop an odd artistic practice of “painting” with bacteria. His “germ art” has been publicly exhibited and chronicled in both scientific and historical journals throughout the years. Dr. Fleming, though, kept his inner artist well in the shadows during his brilliant scientific career.
This issue of Catalyst profiles several faculty whose work celebrates a natural connection between the arts and the sciences. Of course, the College recognizes this connection in its name, but the worlds of science and art are too often presented as well and necessarily separated. Most who choose the path of hard science feel that they are not creative. And the arts students often steer a course well around science and math although the University insists the inhabitants of each planet visit the other now and then through general education requirements.
I think scientists and artists are equally driven to discover that which is beyond their immediate or obvious understanding. They share a reliance on imagination, whether to form a hypothesis or to create a visual masterpiece. Their work ethics are equally unrelenting, and both share an understanding that the intuitive and the objective exist in dynamic harmony. It makes sense that the arts and sciences are inextricably linked in our College’s name. It makes even more sense that the connection grows into a collaboration that is always present. Every course of study has its specialized requirements, but the adventures that scientists take in their embrace of art and the insight provided to artists who rely on the authenticity of known facts make their endeavors complete. Though my career eventually grounded itself in literature and the arts, I harbored an inner scientist deep in my own personal shadows, illustrated by a self portrait drawn at age 10. And he’s still there.
Sam L Grogg