Scientific and Artistic Inquiry

Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 quarters

Taught by

freshwater ecology, quantitative biology, environmental education
printmaking, drawing

We often think of art and science as polarized disciplines, yet the processes of scientific and artistic inquiry are remarkably alike. Both the scientist and the artist work with the material world, asking questions about what it does, how it works, why it matters, and  what happens  if ….?  Both science and art require a significant knowledge base, imagination, and a sense of wonder. Each discipline relies on critical engagement by others in the field.  Scientists and artists 1) require the development of skills that enable close observation and fresh perspectives, 2) are inherent problem-solvers and creators of new knowledge, 3) engage in exhaustive revision, reiteration, and practice, and 4) need to develop strong skills in synthesis and interpretation of outcomes and  diverse kinds of information. This program will examine the similarities between scientific and artistic processes and inquiry through lectures, field studies, laboratory, and studio assignments. This program is an especially good fit for students who have previously felt they don’t belong in the arts or sciences.

Fall Quarter we’ll explore histories of science and art, using texts -- The People’s History of Science and The Invention of Art --  that question conventional accounts, including the dominant culture’s biased assumption that scientific thinking is largely a Euro-American enterprise. Part of our work in fall will involve learning how First Peoples gained scientific knowledge and developed technological innovations through trial-and-error in many cases, well before Europeans Students will learn skills for contributing to, and learning from, seminars, lectures, and trial-and-error in labs, field work and the studio.  Through weekly labs and studio sessions, students will learn introductory skills and knowledge of fresh water ecology and introductory drawing instruction.  No prior experience in any of these disciplines is necessary!

Building on the knowledge and skills gained in fall quarter, students will learn how to read scientific articles, use their drawing skills to explore intaglio printmaking (etching and engraving). They’ll learn stream ecology through small group projects and experience the challenges and rewards of collaborative, interdisciplinary research through a major project incorporating scientific and artistic modes of demonstration in winter quarter.  Although central themes of the program will remain, student learning will be deepened by putting theory into practice in the studio, field, and lab. The focus will be on developing skills and practice in the scientific and creative process, from observations to communication.

Program Details

Fields of Study

art history ecology environmental studies philosophy of science visual arts

Preparatory For

visual arts and art history. This program is not intended as a prerequisite for upper-division science programs, but will prepare students for further study in natural sciences.


Fall Open Winter Conditional

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First winter class meeting: Tuesday, January 10th at 9am (Lab II 2209)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

Special Expenses

Students should expect costs of approximately $25 in fall for drawing materials and $50 in winter for etching materials.


2016-11-28Correction: Students need to read chapter 22 of Freshwater Ecology, not chapter 24.
2016-11-17This program will accept new winter enrollment without signature. Students will need to do some catch-up work over winter break.
2016-04-26Special Expenses updated.