A visual artist compares the way scientists and artists see a world of discovery

Yale News - April 3, 2017

You don’t have to be a scientist to find beauty in black holes, gravitational waves, and quantum physics. Many artists see it too, says Martha Lewis ’93 M.F.A.

It’s a topic that Lewis will explore in a presentation at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4 at the Yale Quantum Institute (YQI), 17 Hillhouse Ave. Her talk, “So Close I Can Almost Taste It: Transitory Models and Objects,” is co-sponsored by the Yale Quantum Institute and the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities.

“A lot of scientists are artists themselves,” Lewis said. “What we do is very similar, in some ways. We’re trying to understand something more about the world.”

Lewis said that while scientists have strict guidelines for testing their theories about the universe, artists are free to express ideas without rigorous quantification. Yet where art and science intersect, she said, is in the use of visual metaphors to represent highly complex or unseen concepts.

In her artwork, Lewis often uses folded paper, ink, and even yarn. She said she’s noticed parallels between fine art and images found in cutting-edge scientific research, such as space mission instruments that expand or contract via a sophisticated system of folds.

“A number of the pieces I’m showing at the talk are three-dimensional drawings,” she explained. “They’re pieces of paper, transformed into something else. They’re placeholders for things one can’t see, hear, or even touch.”

Many of her works draw inspiration from science research and science history. For example, her project ’Branes is a series of three-dimensional drawings based on ideas from mathematical topology and membranes in string theory. Lewis has other works that reference everything from solvated water molecules to accretion flows around black holes.

“Scientists can define intangible forces with complex equations, but it’s harder for a general audience, or even scientists outside of the field, to grasp these concepts,” said Florian Carle, institute manager at YQI. “Martha’s work as a visual artist might be able to bring a piece of the solution, as art allows her to bring emotions, colors, and volumes to the rules of science.”

Lewis has taught drawing through the College Seminar Program at Yale and been artist-in-residence at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. Her work has been part of exhibitions in the United States and Europe.

The April 4 talk will be in YQI’s 4th floor seminar room. For more information, visit the Yale Quantum Institute website.

The talk is part of a series of nontechnical presentations co-sponsored by YQI and the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities to bring a new regard to quantum physics and science by having experts cast new light of often-overlooked aspects of scientific work.

Jim Shelton - Yale News