Alexander Fleming (1888-1955) the biologist who discovered penicillin harbored an inner passion for the visual arts. He was responsible for launching the age of antibiotics when he discovered a certain culture of mold actually could kill disease-causing bacteria. But he just couldn’t shake his artistic impulse. Fleming found time to develop an odd artistic practice of “painting” with bacteria. His “germ art” has been publicly exhibited and chronicled in both scientific and historical journals over the years. Dr. Fleming, though, kept his inner artist well in the shadows of his brilliant scientific career.
(Guardsmen painting by Alexander Fleming with pigment-producing bacteria in culture – source Smithsonian Magazine)
The worlds of science and art are often presented as well, and necessarily, separated. Most who choose the path of hard science feel that they are not “creative.” And the art students often steer a course well around science and math even though the University insists that the inhabitants of each arena visit the other now and then through general education requirements.
Scientists and artists are equally driven to discover that which is beyond their immediate or obvious understanding. They share a reliance on imagination, whether to form a hypothesis or to devise a visual masterpiece. Their work ethics are equally unrelenting. And both share an understanding that the intuitive and the objective exist in dynamic harmony.
It makes sense that the arts and sciences are inextricably linked. It makes even more sense that the connection should eventually grow to an always assumed collaboration. Every course of study has its specialized requirements, but the adventures that scientists take in their embrace of art and the insight provided to artists who rely on the authenticity of known facts make their endeavors complete. Though my career eventually grounded itself in literature and the arts, I harbored an inner scientist deep in my own personal shadows as a self-portrait drawn at age 10 demonstrates.
Clearly, visual arts were not going to be my thing either. But I can’t help but think that the science in me makes my moving image arts and education pursuits all the more satisfying.