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But is it Art?

The dictionary definition is that art is a “diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts, expressing the author’s imagination or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.” So work by cats, elephants, horses and monkeys doesn’t count. Although that said, I have seen a surprising number of videos of more than one horse clearly enjoying painting and they had a good eye for colour.

However, I have a particular bugbear about my local university. Every year there are posters around campus displaying entries for their “Research as Art” competition. Now, I get hot under the collar about this as I suspect that the scientists are trying to muscling in on the artists territory under false pretenses. Taking a photograph of some technicolour microbes as your research and then deciding it’s “art” just isn’t good enough for me.


Miranda Whitten, Swansea University Medicine School, produced this image (above) which shows a cell from a female mosquito undergoing transformation after mating. Mating changes her physiology so radically that the mosquito becomes ‘mating – resistant’. This is a pretty pattern but sorry, Miranda, its not art.

I think that art has to be created as art. As my husband, Seamas, says “there should be intention behind it”.  So, if Miranda got out her felt tip pens and coloured the image in with the intention of making art and not science that would be art.


However, owl pellet contents’ (above) by Melissanthi Sommers-Kontoleon has me undecided. The primary intent of this work is undoubtedly scientific. Barn owls, like many other birds, produce pellets that contain all the undigested parts of their prey and here they are. But the arrangement in a circle, defying straightforward classification, is decidedly artistic.


‘Natural colours from the sea for a natural lifestyle’ by Claudio Fuentes Grünewald (College of Science). I had to think about this because Claudio was collaborating with an artist Luisa Balaban, from the University of the Arts London, Chelsea College of Arts to develop an alternative natural microalgae-extracted pigment. But the collaboration didn’t produce a work of art. It produced what Swansea University website claimed as a “surprising type of biological art design work.” No, it was a by product of your science not art.

Finally to this years winner. Bioblocks: building for nature’ by Ruth Callaway (College of Science). Over 200 children used cubes of clay to sculpt ecologically attractive habitats for coastal creatures as part of a Bioblocks workshop was held at Oriel Science in February 2017. This is a tough one. The bioblocks are all different, colourful and engaging to look at. Their purpose is a scientific one. They were made by 200 children who choose to make them different colours. That alone, qualifies them as art. However, the real decider is who ever arranged them for the photograph. Like the owl pellets that deliberate arrangement was not scientific but had an eye on hues and tones. So, yes, one is art. What do you think?35326532430_f07834afbc_z