When the First Year Seminar classes traveled to Washington, D.C., this semester, some students visited the National Gallery of Art in search of not art, but science. Walter Bowyer, professor of chemistry, encouraged students in his first year seminar, “New Chemistry Meets Old Art,” to explore the importance of integrating science and art by spending an afternoon at the National Gallery. Bowyer has aimed to challenge his students to rethink the notion that art and science are incompatible by assigning art projects to reinforce fundamental scientific principles.
Throughout the semester, the class has covered various topics within art history and the scientific discoveries that have impacted painters, such as new pigments. The class has explored prehistoric art, particularly the ancient cave art found in Europe, to illustrate how science can offer an alternative perspective to understanding ancient art forms.
Finally, Bowyer prompts his students to discuss how human creativity has changed over the past 40,000 years. This question requires a thorough understanding of the similarities and differences between biological and cultural evolution.
“I’ve long been interested in prehistoric art and how the sciences can tell us a great deal about the artists. I’ve traveled throughout France, Spain and the Americas to visit cave art. Also, I’ve always loved art museums. This course was my opportunity to combine all of that together,” explains Bowyer.
“I had never seen the connection between chemistry and art before this course. The labs are fun and creative, and the classes are discussion-based. There is a lot of writing, and it’s hard work, but it has helped me think more about my writing. Professor Bowyer is approachable and flexible, and the class is small. Everyone feels comfortable contributing in class and getting involved because we know each other so well,” says Heidi Gordon ’13.
In the photo above, HWS students travel along a moving sidewalk in Washington D.C. during Professor Walter Bowyer’s Learning Community trip.