Drawing exercise shows students the connection between art and science

Oklahoma State University art students are working closely with the zoology department to expand and improve their creativity in a scientific way.

Drawing II Professor Liz Roth thought of the idea to provide students a change of scenery and to improve their visual research.

“When I was first hired, I asked my drawing students what they disliked most about drawing class, and they said, ‘this room.’ So, I considered where else they could have a meaningful esthetic experience,” Roth said.

Graphic design sophomore Drew Benne is a student in Roth’s class and said he has enjoyed the science aspect of the project.

“There are a lot of patterns in natural science you don’t really get to see in normal still lifes,” Benne said. “It’s a way to express things, and science sometimes is hard to express to people. It could be another way to reach out.”

Zoology Professor and curator of vertebrates Karen McBee said she is fascinated with the project and is glad to offer the art students an opportunity to work with the collections.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had anybody approach us for this kind of class assignment, and I just thought it was cool,” McBee said. “We’re used to using the collections for students that are already interested in the animals or specifically learning about biology, but to have students that normally wouldn’t be using these kinds of specimens just really delighted us.”

Studio art student Alexa Healey took part in the class project last semester and said she was grateful for the chance to work outside of the studio.

“It is easy to forget that there is much more to the OSU campus than the Bartlett Center,” Healy said. “Without this assignment, I would have no knowledge that the zoology lab exists.”

Roth’s project requires students to spend nine hours drawing specimens located in the zoology labs using different mediums such as charcoal, graphite and ink.

“Ultimately, we compare all of their drawings and consider differences among media, and also differences between drawing from life and drawing from photos,” Roth said. “There are many elements to the assignment, but one of the basic ones is for young artists to begin to discover how to generate ideas.”

The project also gives art students the chance to understand the overall importance of connecting art with science.

Healy said art and science are more closely related than most people think.

“There are certain circumstances where one field heavily relies on the other. Where would figure drawing be without anatomy? Artists must be knowledgeable about the structures that they are trying to recreate in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional form.”

Roth said she hopes her students understand the fundamental purpose of practicing their craft in an unfamiliar but relevant environment.

“It is an understanding that trial and error are part and parcel of both disciplines. That comprehending the underlying structure of a matter will clarify and place details in their natural space,” Roth said. “That the quest for knowledge is important and all consuming.”

This article was written by Amy Wilson for OSU News (18 February 2011)