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Melanie Bollman

Collaborative Possibilities for an Art-Science Discourse

            March 6, 1960, saw the beginning of a spontaneous and stimulating dialogue between art and science. Upon reading the latest publication by renowned physicist David Bohm, the American artist Charles Biederman wrote a letter to him expressing both his admiration for the text and the numerous questions it had raised in regards to his own views of reality. Bohm’s book, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, seemed to Biederman a very “humanizing” effort at locating an underlying sense of a larger reality, one that would encompass the seemingly disparate views of art and science. Biederman, a prolific artist, theorist and writer, was one of many in the artistic community searching for ways to ground expanding ideas of visuality and nature in the more empirical discourse of modern science. The two men grappled with a plethora of theories in conversations that extended over nine years and hundreds of letters.

          It is this dialogue that will serve as the impetus for my exploration of the discourse between art and science. I will also examine other collaborations and investigations from the 1950s to the present that form an arena in which Bohm and Biederman’s efforts can be historically and theoretically contextualized. Examples can be found in the work of Roald Hoffmann and Vivian Torrence in Chemistry Imagined: Reflections on Science (1993), Caroline Jones and Peter Galison’s Picturing Art, Producing Science (1998), and Stephen Gould and Rosalind Purcell in Crossing Over: Where Science and Art Meet (2000). These collaborators share with Bohm and Biederman the desire to communicate to audiences comprised of both scientists and artists.

          I believe that the Bohm-Biederman letters hold a unique place in that they represent a casual conversation, one in which neither science nor art dominates. Their collaborative texts were not for publication, but were instead a very personal and explorative method of gaining new understanding. Many themes emerge in the Bohm-Biederman letters—the deterministic nature of reality; the role of human subjectivity within this deterministic structure; the relationships between freedom and necessity, specificity and wholeness, past and future; the relevance of these debates to the dialogue between art and science. Their discussions thus explored and effected each man’s understanding of his own discipline, the underlying correlations between art and science, and the discourse possible between the two. A general structural framework can be found within these discussions and casual conversations, one that will surely aid in reinforcing the importance and viability of connections between the humanities and the sciences. These historical moments, and their accompanying contributions, are the underlying crux of this thesis.


           Melanie Bollman received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She worked at 1926, the Exhibition Studies Space at SAIC, where her flair for combining serious academic endeavors with social enjoyment was utilized to the utmost.


Thesis Advisor: James Elkins, Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Visual and Critical Studies

Thesis Reader: Margaret Olin, Professor; Chair; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Second Reader: Thomas L. Sloan, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism


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