By Patricia Frischer
The La Jolla Playhouse presented some brilliant local scientists in their Art of Science, Science of Art panel. We hope they hold many more of these events which prove not only that there is a close connection between art and science but also that we have top brain power right here in SD.
It turns out that scientist spend a lot of time and have great respect for the arts. They often try to analyze how it gives them a higher level of focus. They have to be performers themselves when they make presentation for grants or lectures to colleagues. They struggle just like artists to find funding and their process of creation is even longer than most artistic ventures. A play can take up to 10 years from book to script to stage, but research often needs to be funded for 40 years or more. They want to shorten the learning curve but have to contend, as doctors, with every patience being a new canvas. They are working to combine the experience of the old guard with the innovative nature of the young bucks. They all seemed to agree that the most progress is made with a totally interdisciplinary team.
Someone in the audience suggested that large sums of money should be thrown at those projects that have the most chance of succeeding, but Dr. Gerald Joyce (Professor, UCSD-Scripps Institute, Molecular Biology and Chemistry) gave a very succinct reply when he said that the dinosaurs would have had been funded if we had gone that route millenniums ago. It is better to fund a spread of projects large, medium and small and best if these are chosen by peer groups.
Dr. Daniel Einhorn, Moderator, Endocrinology Scripps-Whittier) was the moderator for the evening and endured himself when he spoke of that special moment when only you know about an imminent discovery. That is a sweet moment but that isolation which is a factor in a scientist’s life is another reason they look to art to offer a sense of intellectual community.
Dr. Santiago Horgan (Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery, UCSD) spoke movingly of the changes from a time when the "bigger the scar the better the surgeon” to the current minimalist approach. He is actually able to do an appendicitis operation through the mouth with no scar at all.
Both Dr. Thomas Albright (Vision Center Laboratory, Salk Institute) and Dr. Pamela Itkin-Ansari (specializing in diabetes and pancreatic diseases) contributed in many other ways and were equally impressive.
On the art side were Des McAnuff, Director of the new play, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (using the music and inspiration of the band, The Flaming Lips). He reminded the audience that experimentation is the cornerstone of creativity and being able to fail is allowed as long as there is authenticity about the process. Christopher Ashley, Artistic Director, La Jolla Playhouse, gave a wonderful description of how an usher watching a rehearsal gave him the insight into how to fix an ineffectual scene and add layers of meaning when she suggested that a white man and black women raised all sorts of issues outside of the direct dialogue.
Joe Nalven of DAG seems to think that the event was put on to “close the gap between town and gown, talk up the new play, avoid the politics of other art institutions and artists.” I am just grateful that there was standing room only and a very appreciative crowd in attendance who are curious about the art and science combination.