Art+Science Now

Thames & Hudson  (2010)
Stephen Wilson PhD, MFA
Professor, Art, San Francisco State University
swilson at 
ISBN - 9780500238684

A visual survey of artists working at the frontiers of science and technology.  Focus on work since 2000.  Covers artistic experimentation in fields such as biology, ecology, medical research, physics, geology, robotics, telecommunications, artificial intelligence, information visualization, and body sensing computer interfaces.  200+ pages ~270 color illustrations

Buy Art + Science Now  - through my Amazon online bookstore

Available wherever books are sold, or online
sources such as and

Overview: Art/Science Convergence as Emerging Art Field

Science and art - twin pillars of creativity and innovation in any dynamic culture. Commonly they are seen as different as day and night.  Many contemporary artists reject this. They are creating revolutionary art at the frontiers of scientific research that is breathtaking in its creative reach and mind-stretching in its assault on traditional categories. They see art as an independent zone of research that pursues areas of science and research ignored by mainstream academic disciplines.  They are developing technologies that would be rejected by the marketplace but are nonetheless culturally critical.  They are pursuing inquiries that are seen as too controversial, too wacky, too improbable, too speculative for regular science and technology.  They proclaim that art must assume its historical position of keeping watch on the cultural frontier.

Some believe that the meeting place of art and science will be a major arena of 21st century art. This art may well give hints of what lies beyond video, computer and Internet art.   Art+Science Now offers a comprehensive guide - introducing and surveying these exciting developments in hybrid art.  It explains in easy to understand terms what the artists are actually doing, how scientific research and technological innovation become part of the aesthetics and what the larger cultural implications of this art might be.  It is highly illustrated, offering visual access to this new kind of work. It surveys experimental art works in fields such as biology, ecology, medical research, physics, geology, robotics, telecommunications, artificial intelligence, information visualization, and body sensing computer interfaces.

It introduces readers to critical and artistic issues inherent in this work. It explains how this artistic exploration of science and technology can be viewed as a next step in the expansion of the boundaries of art – continuing the ground breaking work of art movements of the last decades such as conceptual, performance, new genre, interventionist, and cross-media work. It considers the variety of critical stances artists take toward the research world – stretching from postmodern skepticism about science’s truth claims and institutional power, to celebration of the human quest to innovate and create new knowledge, to appropriation of the new tools to create new images, sounds, and objects. It investigates the challenges facing art in a scientific era and trajectories art may pursue in the future.

The visually oriented book provides both visual and conceptual access to this challenging work.  It provides illustrations from many different artists.  The book has several goals: Acquainting readers with a wide variety of art they may be unfamiliar with; helping them to become comfortable with the artistic agendas that inspire these sci/tech artists; encouraging them to think about the philosophical challenges these works pose to thinking about art and science;  and preparing them to become informed producers, viewers and consumers of future developments in the arts.

Topics covered in the book

Chapter 1 Introduction Art, Science, and Technology
Science/Art Infrastructure
How do artists integrate scientific and technological research?
How were artists selected for this book?
Examples of historical Art-Science connections
What is the cultural value of artistic involvement with science and technology?
Learning more
How to think about hybrid art

Chapter 2 Molecular Biology, Genetics and Bioengineering
Breeding and Eugenics
Interventions to Critique the Influence of Corporate Motives in Research
Monsters, Mutations, Chimera
Research Processes in Biotechnology
Embryology and Proteins
Tissue Culture/Stem Cells

Chapter 3 Art and Biology of Living Organisms
Microorganisms and other small life forms
Animals and Fish
Relationships Among Species

Chapter 4 Human Biology
Skin, blood and body systems
Brain Functioning, Cognition, the Senses
Body Imaging
Medicine, Disease, Body Conditions
Body Stimulation and Modification
Monitoring Bodily Processes

Chapter 5 Physical Sciences
Particle Physics
Invisible Forces – Gravity and Electromagnetism
Chemistry and Nanotechnology
Geology and Climatology
Water, Oceans, Wind, Weather
Astrophysics and Space

Chapter 6 Kinetics, Robotics, Ubiquitous Computing, Mixed Reality
Research Themes
Control of motion, sound, and light
Conceptual Kinetics
Do-it-yourself and hacking aesthetics
Autonomous and Transformed Objects
Mixed Reality
Force feedback

Chapter 7 Alternative Interfaces – Motion, Gesture, Touch, Facial Expression, Speech, Wearable Computing, and Immersive Virtual Reality
Motion Detection
Face and Expression Recognition
Gesture and Complex Action
Dance and Performance
Experimental 3-D Audio and Visual Displays
Wearables, Smart Fabrics
Virtual Reality

Chapter 8 Algorithms, Code, Genetic Art, A-life, Artificial Intelligence
Algorithms, Code
Genetic Art and Music
Artificial Life
Artificial Intelligence

Chapter 9 Databases, Surveillance, RFID/Barcodes, Synthetic Cinema, Information Visualization
Barcodes, RFID chips, Smartcards, Credit Cards
Synthetic/ Computational Cinema

Chapter 10 Cultural Challenges in a Techno-scientific Culture

Slide Shows

Slide shows of artists in Art+Science Now
(note: because of publisher financial problems, the book was shortened in late stages of production.  Some artists' images were cut out from the book.  The slide show thus includes some artists who are not illustrated in the final book.)


We Make Money Not Art review
West Australian Newspaper web site  (focus on Symbiotica)
Turbulence site review  

Author Bio

Stephen Wilson is a San Francisco author, artist and professor who explores the cultural implications of new technologies. His interactive installations & performances have been shown internationally in galleries and SIGGRAPH, CHI, NCGA, Ars Electronica, BEAP, and V2 art shows. His computer mediated art works probe issues such as Art and Biology, Physical Computing, Artificial Ingelligence, smart spaces and objects; World Wide Web & telecommunications;  hypermedia and the structure of information; GPS and the sense of place; synthetic voice; and environmental sensing. He won the Prize of Distinction in Ars Electronica's international competitions for interactive art and several honorary mentions. He is invited to give lectures and workshops in many international settings.  He is Head of the Conceptual/Information Arts program at San Francisco State University. He was selected as artist in residence at Xerox PARC and NTT Research labs.  He has been a developer for Apple, Articulate Systems and other companies and principal investigator in National Science Foundation research projects to investigate the relationship of new technologies to education.

He has published extensively including articles such as "Dark & Light Visions", Artist as Researcher", "The Aesthetics and Practice of Designing Interactive Events", "Interactive Art and Cultural Change", and "Noise on the Line: Emerging Issues in Telecommunications Art". He has published four books, Using Computers to Create Art (Prentice Hall, 1986), Multimedia Design with HyperCard (Prentice Hall, 1991), and World Wide Design Guide (Hayden, 1995), which promotes an experimental, culturally aware approach to Web design.  His book "Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science and Technology" published by MIT Press in  2002 surveys artists, theorists, and researchers working in advanced inquiries in fields such as biology, medicine, physics, artificial life, telepresence, body sensors, vr, artificial intelligence, and information systems. His newest book, Art +Science Now, to be published by Thames and Hudson in 2010.

Resources for Further Inquiry

These websites list artists' websites, organizations, publications, books, festivals, research Centers, etc. related to the development of hybrid art/science/technology.

Previous Book by Stephen Wilson

Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology    (MIT Press, 2002)
more information about Information Arts

Information Arts offers one of the only comprehensive international surveys of artists working at the frontiers of scientific inquiry and emerging technologies.  Its goal is to describe this art, explore its theoretical rationales, and alert readers to possible future directions.  It is also one of the only sources available that reviews cutting edge techno-scientific research in a way accessible to those without extensive technical backgrounds.  It will be of interest to artists, art historians, electronic media designers, technologists, scientists, researchers, and more general audiences interested in the future of research that will have significant impact on the culture. infoarts

A guide to learning more.  Analysis of what the book tries to do and of what is missing.

Art+Science Now was designed as a visual survey of many areas of hybrid art/science experimental work.  It was also designed as an introduction to the field for the general public who have may have little or no experience with this kind of work.  Thames & Hudson is well known for creating visually exquisite art books that appeal to wide audiences.  I became involved in the project because I wanted to increase the literacy, interest and curiosity of new audiences.  Creation of this kind of book aimed at the general public does pose certain constraints which were sometimes tough for me as the author.  This explains some of those for interested readers.  If the book succeeds in whetting the appetite of new audiences to learn more, then it will have been worth it.  I have listed extensive resources that will help readers reach beyond those constraints.

Limits on Text Length:  The book focuses on visual documentation.  The publisher asked me to radically cut my original text.  Also each caption was cut.  I had to drop almost all mentions of artists who did not have illustrations.  The publisher had strong ideas about how much tolerance the public had for explication.  This kind of art is complex and artists have well developed rationales for why they created the art.  I felt access to this was important but there wasn't room to include it. To their credit the publisher provided excellent editors who worked with me to give the best text we could within the radical space limitations.

Number of Artists: The artists in the book are great exemplars of this hybrid work.  T&H limits the length of books in this series  of highly illustrated, large format books. This means that I could not include many artists; the editors asked my to drop 40 artists that I had proposed even within those limits. (The length of the book was also cut from the original plan because of the financial crisis.)  Absence from the book should not be interpreted as lack of importance.

Limited Time Frame: The book focuses on art completed during 2000-2007. Many noteworthy projects fall outside that range. 

Choice of artists- visual quality: The visual focus did significantly confine the selection process.  I could not even consider the many excellent artists who work conceptually because their work did not document well visually.   Also we discovered that many artists who do work visually no longer think about print documentation; they had excellent web documentation but often had no images that met the high quality resolution that T&H requires for illustrations in their books.

Depth of Artist Work: Typically, the book has been able to present only one or two sample works from the artists’ decades of significant experimental work. Also, it has been able to describe only a small part of the artists’ rich and multilayered agendas.

Missing Areas of Research: Space limited coverage of many active areas of hybrid artistic inquiry -- for example, telecommunications, telepresence, experimental web technologies, radio, wireless, locative media, games and rapid prototyping work.

Missing details on support structures: Chapter 1 only touches the surface of new experimental infrastructures to encourage hybrid work. Analysis of this work could fill a book of its own.

Role of Theory: Many cultural theorists believe that it is impossible in this era to appreciate, understand, and practice art without awareness of the meta-narratives that underlie artistic work. This is especially important in hybrid forms described in this book, which directly address contested themes in the relationship between science, technology and culture. Each chapter offers a brief introduction to themes identified by cultural theorists and the research communities, but much deeper analysis is available in the corpus of books and articles that have been written in the last decades.

Here are some of the cultural themes useful in understanding this art: The critique of scientific research process; socio-economic influence on research agendas; posthuman attitudes about the body, identity, and body/machine relationships; changing concepts of time, space and physical reality; reduction of biology to code; gender/class influences on experimental media; narrative, hypermedia, and distributed authorship; the nature of databases and networks; surveillance, tactical media, and hacking; the nature of computer code, artificial intelligence, and self organizing systems; relationship between games, entertainment and art; ethical issues research fields such as ecology, medicine, and biology

Art+Science Now offers a brief tour of artistic research at the frontiers of science and technology. It aims to give the reader a feel for this provocative work and examples of artists working in many fields. It presents a rich array of illustrations. Because of space limitations, it has not been able to pursue every topic in full depth. Please treat it as an introduction, not a comprehensive analysis. There is much to pursue further.

Note that the author’s art/technology/science websites offer comprehensive links to  artists' websites where you can learn about the missing artists, missing projects of artists who are included, and artist explication of goals and theory related to their work.  The web pages are categorized in topics somewhat analagous to the chapters of the book.   There are also pages that link to the rich infrastructure of organizations, blogs, museums, publications, research centers, alternative science sites,  convergence programs, funding opportunities, competitions, and festivals.  Other sites link to  books, essays, and syllabi.  There are links above.  Also here is the url: links/wilson.artlinks2.html

Also consult the author’s previous book Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science and Technology (MIT Press, 2002) for more elaboration on artists and theoretical perspectives. 

back to top