Week in the Woods
4:00 am
Thu January 16, 2014

Studying Science, For Art

A group of art students traveled to the Northwoods last week...for a dose of science.  Students at the Milwaukee Institute for Art and Design spent a week at the Kemp Station Natural Resources Station near Woodruff. 

It may surprise some people to find art students also interested in science, but to Maddy Dall, it’s totally natural.

“I’ve always really been interested in paleontology especially – so like dinosaurs.  I always told myself if I could draw dinosaurs I’d be a happy person – so scientific illustration really appealed to me.”

Dall is an illustration major and a biology minor.  Today, next to a crackling fire, she’s studying a series of tables and charts on her laptop. It’s the final day of a week-long course called “Life under the ice.” Nine Students from MIAD, the Milwaukee Institute for Art and Design, are wrapping up their projects. 

“I always said that teaching at MIAD is like herding feral cats.  Because they have so many different attitudes towards life and toward everything they do.” 

Maurizio Murru teaches natural sciences at MIAD and is one of this week’s trip leaders.

“We work with them –create a nice little experimental design or research project.  They go out, drill holes, collect samples, do what they need to do.  And they work on it, for the whole week.” 

Experiments involve drilling holes in frozen over lakes to sample water.

“One hole, two holes, three holes – however many is needed.”

Each student’s project focuses on something different, like what happens when things change at different parts of the food chain.  Katie Hasecker is looking at living organisms called phytoplankton. 

“I had to collect both phytoplankton and zooplankton – because I wanted to see how zooplankton and nutrients would affect phytoplankton growth.” 

MIAD has a science requirement, where students have to take at least six science credits.

Knowledge of science can inform careers in art : like design.  Paul Engevold is leading this week’s trip with Maurizio Murru, and he also teaches science at MIAD.  He says there are lots of reasons it’s relevant to an art major. 

“Well, one I think the process is very valuable – how to solve problems.  It also helps them to understand the natural world in a way that they can become better citizens.” 

Or, science can be a kind of inspiration, says photography major Michelle Sharp.

“I guess I’ve always been interested in science, but I didn’t realize it until this year.  When I was doing pseudo-science art projects and photographing diatoms through microscopes.  And I was like wow I should get a science minor, that just makes sense.  I like exploring and finding things.” 

Students have been facing arctic temperatures, as well as a rigorous schedule..and they now face a deadline for getting all their data analyzed.  Murru says it’s not exactly a vacation.

“We’re pushing them to think.  So for me and for Paul – the fact that they collected water samples and yada yada yada – but does it mean?

For each one of the students, that’s likely to be something a little different.