Critical Vision: Art and Biology

Fall 2019
Winter 2020
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 40
16 Credits per quarter
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Vision, perception and observation are fundamental senses and skills in most forms of experimental science and artistic practice. Both disciplines require a multitude of ways of seeing, perceiving and creating visual experiences to understand and make meaning of the physical world.  Informed, careful observation is critically important in terms of scientific experimentation, and equally important in learning how artistic media and processes behave, in order to understand what one can do with them.  While we think of vision as a sense, and often take for granted that what is seen as ‘fact,’ visuality is actually a culturally-bound practice; our cultural values often governing what we see, what we don’t see and determining how we value what is seen. For example, Western visuality values linear perspective, and artists are often assessed on their ability to reproduce this illusion/representation of the world. However this is only one of the many ways humans have made spatial relationships visible.

Light as an optical phenomenon on Earth bridges physics and biology.  Image and observation bridge the physical world, including the biological sensory apparatus, and the cognitive realm that enables us to interpret and understand what we see. In this program we combine both the ideas (conceptual) and sensations (perceptual) with the practical realms, converting image and perception in the senses to the practice of generating images on paper.

In this two-quarter program, we’ll learn how light acts as natural phenomena, how vision works in a diversity of animals, including humans, and how brains translate that information. Fall quarter will address foundational explorations into optics, the use of lenses, and understanding how light behaves, as well as observational drawing skills.  In winter, color, perceived as light, as pigment; the evolution of vision and color theory and experimentation through drawing will be among our foci.  In both quarters, we’ll explore and become proficient in using scientific and artistic tools, theories, and concepts that govern or extend our ability to see and understand. Through lectures, and an emphasis on experiential learning modes (labs, studio workshops and assignments), students will explore the intersection of scientific and artistic practice as modes of thinking and problem-solving, and critical visual literacy skills in both disciplines. 

Students will learn optics, marine biodiversity and anatomy, drawing, and visual literacy. 


Fall 2019 Registration

studio teaching spaces are physically limited, and it is exceptionally difficult for 25 students to observe visual art demonstrations.  Requesting a reduction in enrollment that will mitigate these issues.  Lisa typically takes up to 3 qualified ILCs each quarter.

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10304
Winter 2020 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20054

Academic details

Preparatory for studies and careers in

scientific illustration, biology, optics, marine biology, visual art

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$15 fall quarter  and $110 winter quarter for art supplies


In Person or Remote
In Person (F)
In Person (W)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 B2105 - Workshop


Date Revision
2019-12-02 Winter quarter fee raised to $110 (was $15)
2019-05-16 now open to seniors
2019-05-16 $15 fee added for each quarter