Anne Wilson, To Cross (Walking New York), 2014, performance and sculpture at the Drawing Center, New York. Photo: Lynne Heller
Anne Wilson, To Cross (Walking New York), 2014, performance and sculpture at the Drawing Center, New York. Photo: Lynne Heller

Research and Scholarship

As you may know, I have devoted my career to research and scholarship in the sciences. I spent decades as a theoretical physicist and also directed institutions such as Argonne National Laboratory and the National Science Foundation. Through these experiences, I acquired a deep respect for the power of research and scholarship to better our lives and society.

So when I first arrived at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), it was one of the great pleasures, and surprises, of my new role as President to see how much research and scholarly inquiry go into the creative work of our students, faculty members, and alumni.

On further reflection, however, I have come to appreciate that being an artist is in many ways similar to being a scientist. After all, both require innate talent and ingenuity, certainly, but critical too are qualities like depth of knowledge and technical mastery. These take hard work, curiosity, and the persistence to have a true command of one's subject matter. Think of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical sketches of the human body.

In the stories that follow, you will find numerous examples of SAIC artists and designers making use of research in their practices, and of how a work of art can often double as a piece of scholarship. David Hartt (MFA 1994), for example, creates complex installations that explore the built environment—how these manifestations reflect certain belief states, and how their significance has evolved over time. In addition to photography, video, and sculpture, his work combines elements of historical and anthropological research and insight. Likewise, in Manifesting the Look of Love, Professor of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects Helen Maria Nugent uses extensive research into the psychology of love and sophisticated eye-tracking technology to investigate how couples look at each other—and how emotions can be translated into tangible objects.

As you can see, research and scholarship infuse the world of art and design more than ever before, and, as an institution, SAIC has been quick to embrace this development. The Earl and Brenda Shapiro Center for Research and Collaboration, for example, was established to foster a research-centric environment at the school, and through its Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER), the Shapiro Center supports faculty and students as they investigate new and emerging topics in art and design. (You can read about two especially fascinating EAGER projects, the Queering Mixed Reality Collective and Hair Club, in this issue.)

But especially important to the Shapiro Center's mission is that last word: collaboration. Whether between colleagues or institutions or in the arts or sciences, advances in research and scholarship are often the result of experts and professionals working together on a shared problem or question. So I am thrilled to also highlight projects like the University of Chicago/SAIC Arts, Science, and Culture initiative as well as the College Arts Access Program, developed in partnership with Chicago Public Schools.

These initiatives reveal the importance of our goal to continue to forge relationships with partners around the city and country. That will go a long way toward translating all of our creative research and scholarship into action.

Walter E. Massey
President, School of the Art Institute of Chicago