Sunday, April 24, 2016

Week 4: MedTech + Art

When MedTech Meets Art
Diffusion Tensor Imaging, a more colorful view of the white matter in the brain
We already know how art can help medical school students study, but we often do not think about how medical technology/medicine itself is considered a form of art. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and, as Silvia Casini notes, MRI scans are no exceptions. Thanks to continued curiosity for the human body as well as improvements to medical technology, humanity has seen improvements in art, such as more realistic depictions of the human body in portraits, and greater understanding of the human body that has enhanced humanity's standard of living.

The original Hippocratic Oath, first seen in Greek medical texts. The modern oath was written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University.
One of the readings I found the most interesting this week was about the Hippocratic Oath. Although many doctors see oath-taking as a ritual and rite-of-passage activity upon entry into medical school, the oath still garners controversy. The modern oath states, "If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter," seemingly separating art from medicine. I strongly disagree with this dissociation because I think creativity, and the art that results from it, is necessary in medicine/medical technology. We see this in the field of plastic surgery.

The Reincarnation of Saint-Orlan, an art project in which artist Orlan underwent a series of surgeries to incorporate aspects of famous paintings/sculptures onto her face

Through cosmetic plastic surgery, people can now transform themselves into a work of art. We see this through Orlan's plastic surgery art project, where she went under the knife to have the chin of Botticelli’s Venus, the nose of Jean-Léon Gérôme's Psyche, the lips of François Boucher’s Europa, the eyes of Diana, and the forehead of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Orlan may be an extreme case, but her work clearly demonstrates how medical technology can be analogous to an artist's tools, sculpting and sketching to create something completely new, different, and even cringe-worthy. Additionally, Orlan's project can also be used as a talking point about our society's standards of beauty. I use the phrase "work of art" loosely, for our standards of beauty always change. Thus, while we have the technology to do so, to pursue beauty in the ways greater society defines it will always leave people disappointed.

Casini, Silvia. “Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) as Mirror and Portrait: MRI Configurations Between Science and Arts.” Web.
Lawrence, Hannah. "This Med Student Makes His Own Comics To Help Him Study." BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed. Web. 
Oriach, Stephan. "Orlan--Carnal Art." Documentary. YouTube. 
Tyson, Peter. “The Hippocratic Oath Today.” PBS. PBS. Web. 
Vesna, Victoria. "Medicine pt. 2" Lecture. Web. 
Vesna, Victoria. "Medicine pt. 3." Lecture. Web.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Week 3: Robotics + Art

What's even unique anymore if practically anyone can buy it? Is anyone's style truly original and special?
This week's topic clearly demonstrates the positive and negative impact of the development of technology on art. Mass production has allowed art to permeate every aspect of society despite its history of being only being accessible to the elite. At the same time, however, mass production has also led art to lose its creative and unique characteristics. As Walter Benjamin argues in his essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production," mechanically reproducing the same artwork can cause it to lose its original spark, for "even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be." Operating under a context that values individualism and originality, is it even possible to develop one's own style without being a copy-cat given the mass production of art?

ex_machina, a sci-fi psychological thriller about a programmer, Caleb, who gets invited to his CEO's home to administer a Turing Test to a newly created humanoid robot, Ava.
This week's topic also demonstrates the impact of art on technology, especially in the field of robotics. In the media, robots and cyborgs are not only characterized as more intelligent, but also as more aesthetically pleasing. We see this in Japanese society, where robots/cyborgs have sleek designs to help them be human's next best companion. In Western society, however, we still see the recurrent theme of mistrusting technology even though we grow increasingly dependent on it. Thus, Western media portrays robots/cyborgs' increasing intelligence and aesthetically appearance as our downfall, for they can use it to deceive and/or annihilate humanity.  

We displaced horses from their roles in society. Will robots do the same to us?

The development of robotics brings us to an interesting topic about the future of humanity. As discussed earlier, we are very dependent on technology (e.g., unable to leave home without your phone, social media to stay connected with others, etc.), and robots are becoming increasingly useful in our society. We see this in everyday life, such as the decease in blue-collar jobs, self-driving cars, and self-checkout stands at supermarkets. Thus, as our society strives for efficiency and continues to rely on automation, it is very possible humanity will no longer have a place in any occupational role in society. Will this cause humanity to lead listless lives, or will automation allow humanity to finally pursue hobbies they would otherwise not have time for (i.e., artistic pursuits)? Only time will tell, and I wonder if I will be alive to see this reality manifest.

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Marxists. Web. 
Grey, C.G.P. "Humans Need Not Apply." Documentary. Web.
Kusahara, Machiko. "Robotics MachikoKusahara." Lecture. Web. 
Vesna, Victoria. "Robotics pt. 1." Lecture. Web. 
Vesna, Victoria. "Robotics pt. 2." Lecture. Web.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Week 2: Math + Art

"Brunelleschi observed that with a fixed single point of view, parallel lines appear to converge."Image from
Edwin Abbott's FlatLand: A Romance of Many Dimensions depicts a society strictly divided into classes of dimensions. Although Abbott's novella was meant to elicit discussion about the nature of Victorian society, in the context of this course, his descriptions bring up images of the divide between math and art. We often do not realize the connection between the two disciplines despite the fact that the development of linear perspective during the Renaissance helped improve art, allowing artists to paint more unified, realistic scenes. Linda Henderson further elaborates on how math and science theories have contributed to the development of modern art through the concept of a fourth dimension. 

Manchester Masterpiece: The Unexpected Golden Ratio
We further see connections between math and art when discussing the golden ratio, a math concept as well as an art tool used to achieve harmony, beauty, and balance. Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and the pyramids in Egypt as well as the Parthenon in Athens are noted for having this golden ratio--approximately 1:1.618--which has aesthetic appeal. Perhaps the golden ratio, then, gives us an explanation for why we think some art and architecture is more visually pleasing than their counterparts. Another connection between math and art can be seen in optical illusions, which may use geometry and linear perspective to confuse the viewer and gives us insight on how the human visual system works. 
A polar graph I made in pre-calculus honors during high school.
The pinwheel is based off of the a variation of the rose curve equation, r = a 
sin nθ
I did not expect this week's topic to be relevant to my personal experiences. I never cultivated an interest in math in contrast to my strong interests in music and doodling. I also, however, did not expect to re-discover work I had done in high school to directly relate to this week's topic. As it turns out, polar graph art is a perfect example of the connection between math and art, for it uses a polar equation of a curve as the base of the artwork that will be created. Regarding my music interests, this week's topic helped me realize the importance of math in music and music presentation, given how EDM and other related genres have become more mainstream and popular. Moving forward, math and art--in addition to science--will be integral in allowing society to move towards a new dimension of understanding and discovery. 

Abbott, Edwin. "FlatLand: A Romance of Many Dimensions." Web.
Bein, Kat. "All of the Lights: Meet the Man Who Designs EDM's Million-Dollar Stages." Web. 
Henderson, Linda. "The fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art." Web.
Joseph, Anthony. "It's just like Michelangelo! Epic New Year's Eve photo of drunken carnage on the streets of Manchester spawns string of 'artistic' memes."     Web.
Vesna, Victoria. "Mathematics pt. 1." Lecture. Web. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Week 1: Two Cultures

From the 2015 Agar Art Contest: An art piece a strain of S. cerevisiae, infected with a virus called L-A.
I didn't expect the concept of two cultures to be challenging. C.P. Snow discusses how (Western) society is seemingly split into two realms, the sciences and the humanities, and how that divide is impeding social progress. What I didn't expect, however, was the relevance this concept has had throughout my entire life. 

I was born and raised in Orange County, California. As the daughter of Vietnam War refugees, I have struggled with my bicultural identities as a Sino-Vietnamese American. My family sometimes labels me a "banana"--yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Greater society, however, sometimes doesn't see me as an American because of my physical appearance, leading to questions such as "Where are you really from?" Never fully Asian but also never completely American, I feel like I was undergoing “a struggle of flesh, a struggle of borders, [and] an inner war” as I constantly juggle two self-consistent but seemingly habitually incompatible frames of reference (Anzaldua, 1999). 

UCLA's Franz Hall, home of the Psychology department
In the academic world, I am a psychology major with a minor in education studies. People easily label me as having a North Campus minor, but they struggle trying to box me in based off of my major. Although I will earn a Bachelor of Arts in June, that doesn't change the face that I have had to learn about brain and eye anatomy, which maps onto life sciences. Psychology is even under the Dean of Life Sciences's jurisdiction, so psychology majors stand with all the other majors traditionally noted as life science during the College of Letters and Sciences Commencement ceremony. Franz Hall is even noted as the crossroads between North and South Campus, with the Herb Albert School of Music on its left and the MS Building on its right.

Are the arts and sciences really diametrically opposites?
I believe the arts and sciences are important, with no discipline being better than the other. Of course, society, has its own values on what it thinks is important, but I am happy that we are slowly moving toward a third culture that combines what is historically considered two polar opposites. We see evidence of this, such as the med school student who uses art to study and the move away from STEM to STEAM. I can't wait to see what new ideas, improvements, and theories will emerge because of this third culture. 

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands = La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1999. Print.
Lawrence, Hannah. "This Med Student Makes His Own Comics To Help Him Study." BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. London: Cambridge UP, 1993. Print.
Vesna, Victoria. "Toward a Third Culture: Being In Between." Leonardo 34.2 (2001): 121-25. 
Zakaria, Fareed. "Why America's Obsession with STEM Education Is Dangerous."Washington Post. The Washington Post. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.