Monday, March 21, 2011

The Artist and the Astrophysicist

photo by
Sue Weisler   
R.I.T. photographer
at an illustrated talk by Steve Carpenter
on the left and Adam Frank on the right

With artwork, an interesting question arises about collaborations - who gets to sign the work?
There are historical precedents to consider, and the business of giving credit where credit is due has to be addressed.  How do you determine whose contributions you are looking at?

Sometimes more than one artist signs the work, and in contemporary art we are seeing many more collaborations.  In the past we had the products of the atelier system, master artists then had the services of students and assistants who brought the art to life.  In this system we only knew who these assistants were if they went on to make a name for themselves later for their own artwork.

In the 1970's and1980's I worked as an artist with my father, Arthur Singer, on images that often found their way into publications - either books, collectibles, and even postage stamps.  Whenever possible, we both signed the actual artwork.

Controversy surrounds some collaborations - witness a court case mentioned in a recent New York Review of Books over the validity of an Andy Warhol silkscreen work.  Determining what is an authentic print can involve a lot of detective work, - but is a collaborative work somehow less original?  Does it matter that the Warhol Factory made the print and the artist signed the image?  Hasn't that process been part of the artworld for decades?

Our understanding of what the practice of fine art really is - changes and expands like the universe that astrophysicist Adam Frank talked so passionately about.  He came to R.I.T. to give an illustrated talk with painter, Steve Carpenter late in March.  When they speak about deep space and star formation, they talk about a creative process, full of light, violence, and extreme beauty.  This was a collaborative venture between the artist and the scientist - to try to find and touch the reality of these grand events and see some reflection of humanity and how we are a part of this astonishing array.  Paintings start as printing on canvas,  employing yet another artist - Tony Dungan - to make digital files that develop a foundation that will accept  thick paint.  Equations try to give  mathematical explanations for the phenomena of star formation.  The equations are etched like hieroglyphs in the paintings and only hint at the intellect at work trying to decipher distant hot spots in the universe.

Collaboration in the visual arts was unusual, if it fought with expectations of the solitary figure at work - alone in a studio creating work of value.  I think we are beginning to see a greater emphasis and resonance with ideas that are brought about by collective spirit, and aggregate talents.

Adam Frank
at R.I.T.
Photo by
Sue Weisler