YUAG fosters STEM connections

This Year, the Yale University Art Gallery is promoting collaboration with public health and other science-related organizations.
This Year, the Yale University Art Gallery is promoting collaboration with public health and other science-related organizations. Photo by Carly Lovejoy.

As part of its recent push toward exploring the intersection of science and art, the Yale University Art Gallery hosted a tour of artwork connected to issues surrounding public health.

Led by Gallery Teacher Vanessa Lamers GRD ’13 on Tuesday, the tour examined art highlighting aspects of the human form, as well as paintings created by artists who were themselves interested in medicine and influenced by developments in science at the time. The event is just one example of increased collaboration between the YUAG and science-related organizations such as the Public Health Coalition, which planned the tour as a part of its National Public Health Week. Assistant Curator of Academic Affairs David Odo said that while partnerships have existed between the gallery and University science departments for a number of years, it is only recently that the museum has begun focusing on increasing its STEM-related programming.

“We’re ramping up our collaborations in terms of really thinking together with scientists about how our work can be mutually beneficial,” Odo said, adding that he hired an undergraduate chemical engineering major to work with him as an intern in the coming academic year.

This past summer, Odo co-taught the inaugural semester of a class titled “Empathy and the Practice of Medicine,” which he said was an experiment in how art can play a role in discussions of bioethics. He observed that he found students conversed more honestly when they had art as a reference point, as it gave them an opportunity to situate their ideas in the context of human relations.

Lamers, who is the only gallery teacher in the field of public health, said art can serve as a tool for facilitating conversations about the more “taboo” subjects in science, noting that people often feel more comfortable talking about issues of nationalism, race and ethnicity through the lens of art.

The open spaces of the YUAG, which was specifically designed by architects to foster discussion, also offers a refreshing change of environment for those accustomed to talking about science and medicine only in classrooms or laboratories, Associate Curator of Public Education Jessica Sack said.

“The environment of the museum is a different kind of feeling space,” Sack said. “This space allows for a more impartial conversation to take place.”

Sack said that in addition to being a mediator of discussions, art can serve as a form of therapy for those suffering from health ailments. She cited the YUAG’s partnership with West Haven’s Veterans Administration, an organization that brings blind veterans to the museum to participate in workshop discussions about the artwork. These sessions begin with the gallery teachers describing what they see in front of them, which then incites the veterans to engage in conversations about not only art, but the facets of their lives that are evoked by the collections.

Another segment of National Public Health Week features glass sculptures created by students from the School of Medicine. Using skills learned from glass-blowing workshops, the students created sculptures in the shape of organs to be exhibited in the Silliman Art Gallery. The project aims to shed new light on the public’s understanding of organs, Public Health Coalition co-coordinator Rima Abhyankar ’14 said.

“Our goal is not just to provide art as an illustration of scientific principles, which would be fine but unsatisfying,” Odo said. “[The YUAG] really wants to find a way for our art collections to be intellectually important in the study of science, and vice versa.”

The glass sculpture exhibit will be shown in the Silliman Art Gallery this Thursday through Sunday.

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