The science of art

Thornton gallery features work by Engineering students

Engineering students are often maligned for the stereotype that they only care about issues of math and science, displaying little to no interest in the arts. Those who subscribe to this misconception should reconsider upon visiting the only on-Grounds art gallery specifically for the artwork of Engineering students.

The art gallery, located in a foyer on the second floor of Thornton Hall, has highlighted the works of a different Engineering student for each of the past three semesters.

The idea began in the fall of 2009 when Engineering Professor Ben Cohen was discussing the connections between science and art with a friend. He then acted on his idea when he noticed the large, empty space outside his office.

"In my field - science, technology and society - we work to show how technologies are designed from cultural foundations and that technologies have always been expressions of human creativity," Cohen said. "They express different visions of who we are - like art."

Graduate student Katelyn Sack, whose paintings were the first pieces hung in the gallery, also stressed the connection between art and engineering.

"The Thornton Gallery draws attention to the fact that arts and sciences co-mingle at U.Va. through interdisciplinary dialogue on an everyday basis," Sack said. "This is one of the extraordinary features that sets the University apart." ?

Cohen began working with colleagues George Cahen and Josie Pipkin in choosing the artist of the semester. Although the process has been generally informal so far, the group is now organizing a schedule to accept portfolio submissions by a specified deadline in the middle of the semester for display in the subsequent one.

The gallery currently features 10 photographs produced by Caroline Higgins, president of both the Society of Women Engineers and the vice-president of the University Photography Club. Higgins said photography is merely a leisure activity and not a career aspiration.

"I wish I had more time for the hobby but it's difficult with the engineering curriculum," Higgins said.

Sack said although she is busy working on her doctorate degree and serving as a teaching assistant for a political theory class, she keeps art in her daily life by using it to express research findings.\n"I'm illustrating my main research ideas, mostly in oils, which turns out to be a great way to clarify the concepts to myself," Sack said. "Art can be a fantastic way of thinking things through." ?

Cohen said he has tried to expand the idea beyond the Engineering School and reached out to the University community to publicize the connection between technology and art. He stressed that the art gallery is for the community and is open to all art forms and suggestions.

"We're really looking to the students, faculty and staff for their ideas. It isn't a top-down dictate from the Gallery committee about what the gallery should look like," Cohen said.

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