Standing at the Intersection of Art and Science

Apr 22, 2016

The student art exhibit that just went up in Drake University’s Harmon Fine Arts Center crosses the intersection between art and the natural world. It’s the result of work created in a class called Planets. 

Work by senior Pamela Mulhern is part of the Planets exhibit at Drake University.

Drake associate art professor Angela Battle is pawing through an untidy box of display materials as she searches for things by which student artwork might attach to a gallery wall.

“See all the stuff required to hang an exhibition," she says. "Where are they?”

Battle is the primary teacher of painting at Drake. She has an advanced degree in the discipline. She also holds an undergraduate degree in biology. So she has long been fascinated by how art and science work together to explain the world around us.

“We’re not trying to be scientists in this class as much as raise an awareness of what’s out there," she says. "To engage wonder and curiosity.”

Battle has taken this interest and developed over her 13 years at Drake courses that blend natural phenomena with the creative process. For example, in a class called “Critters” she asks students to take a look at the lives of animals through the lenses of natural history, biology, art, poetry, fiction and film. It’s an approach that attracted senior Pamela Mulhern into a course being offered for the first time titled “Planets.”

“I have always kind of been interested in science," Mulhern says. "My mother was a biology major, so it’s always been part of my life. I knew the mix of science and art would be a good thing for me.”

In the Planets class, Battle challenges students to design visual art objects inspired by the scientific disciplines of meteorology, geology, astronomy and biology. The result is a mix of large and small pieces, both realistic and abstract. They depict such things as a water spout spiraling out of the ocean, the landscape of Mars, a geode sliced in half, the phases of the moon, the aurora borealis. Battle then brings the work into a single exhibit.

Senior Melanie Buck carefully installs a piece for the Planets exhibit at Drake University's Weeks Gallery.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

“Put all of that together in a room and what you have is a portrait of the world in the universe," Battle says. "That’s kind of how I was envisioning it.”

Battle also keeps the materials used for these creations simple. Here are some of the items senior Scott Huff put into his work.

“Cardboard, straws, glue, paint, and two caps from Starbucks cappuccinos,” Huff lists.

It’s all part of what Battle describes as a playful approach to art.

“Some of them are wrapped in masking tape," Battle says. "We’re not really trying to take ourselves too seriously.”

Sophomore Grace Lim is a painter, for the most part, who is often precise and delicate in her work. She stands near the more rough-hewn results of this semester’s class, which she says has led her to think of art in a whole new way.

Scott Huff and a water spout made from paper plates.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

“It’s supposed to be an aurora, but it’s not completely finished," Lim says. "I did not hide the nails or the pins or whatever. I just left it like that, and I’m happy with it.”

Her interpretation of the aurora borealis, along with the final projects of six other students in Angela Battle’s Planets class at Drake University, will be on display in the Weeks Gallery of the Harmon Fine Arts Center through May 12.