Seeing What's There: Art and the Biology of Vision

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Winter 2018
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

ceramics, visual arts
genetics, molecular biology

We live in a world inundated by images that shape our personal, social, and political realities. In this program, we aim to investigate “seeing” through an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates biology, studio art, and literature.

We are interested in understanding the pathway of visual processing that occurs in the brain—how light entering the eye is converted to information on contrast and color and is used to construct amazing three-dimensional forms—how we, in effect, create the world through seeing. We will also develop our skills in art making, both to better understand the marvelous optical illusions of art and to express our own realities and responses to the world through images. We will consider how humans have historically used art to express reality, both the visible and invisible, and how media images are used in contemporary society to shape and manipulate reality. In order to broaden our inquiry into the meanings of seeing, we anticipate reading such authors as David Hubel, Oliver Sacks, Honoré de Balzac, Ursula Le Guin, James Baldwin, Ali Smith, Louise Glück, and Errol Morris.

This program is appropriate for students at all skill levels in studio art, from beginning to advanced. Entering students should have taken high school biology and chemistry. We expect everyone in the program both to create original artworks and to participate in biology labs. Program activities will include lectures, workshops, art studio, science labs, and seminar. Student learning will be assessed by a program portfolio, art portfolio, exams, writing assignments, and a lab notebook. Credits equivalencies may be awarded in studio art and biology of vision. Students completing this program will gain a solid background for more advanced studies in neurobiology and studio art.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: studio art and biology.

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.
Special expenses:

Students should expect to spend $250 for art supplies.


high school biology and chemistry.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia

Final schedule and room assignment:

2017-11-14Special expense added ($250).
2017-10-27New winter opportunity added.