Chemistry of Art, or HNRS 3900, is a new course this semester that examines the relationship between the sciences and the arts and how they benefit one another.
Art students taking the course can expect to receive a higher understanding of chemistry and how it affects their art and the materials they use to create it. Science students can gain a greater understanding of scientific processes and how they can be used in all aspects of the world around them.
Brandon Burnett, a professor and chemistry advisor at Weber State, and Dianna Huxhold, an art professor, collaborated over the course of a year to pitch and design the curriculum for this course.
Regarding the inspiration leading to this unique course’s inception, Burnett said that the idea of a relationship between art and chemistry isn’t necessarily new.
“For me personally I’ve always been interested in and appreciated art,” Burnett said. “I’m not the best artist, but I really like painting and drawing and sculpting and can really appreciate the masters. Early on in my chemistry career, I got really involved in the chemistry of pigments and dyes that can be used for paints and other art materials, and so that love for art while I was doing chemistry has stuck with me through grad school and my teaching career.”
As for Burnett’s motivations in bringing this course about, he said, “I’ve always wanted to teach this and I thought that if artists knew even a little bit of chemistry, it could really advance their art. And vice versa, if some chemists knew a little more about visual design and art elements it would really help their communication regarding chemistry principles and science in general.”
According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burnett is correct. Ancient Romans, for example, used very complex techniques in creating glasswork. The science they used could even have a powerful effect on us now.
“It has been noted by scientists working in museums that the Romans fashioned their glass ware in such a way they could be described as nanotechnologists,” reads an RCS study. “For example, studies on the Roman chalice known as the Lycurgus Cup at the British Museum has indicated it could be the key to a new technology that might help diagnose human disease or pinpoint biohazards at security checkpoints.”
As far as the purpose of this course, Dr. Huxhold said it has a layered structure from her perspective. She went on to say one purpose of the class is to take the explicit languages of both chemistry and visual art, and approach each other through those lenses.
“On a very basic level, I want to show how the boundaries between the two disciplines aren’t terribly firm,” Huxhold said. “We’re talking about a lot of the same content, just from slightly different angles. Another purpose is to create a collaborative learning community, where science and art students can all educate and learn from each other.”
Dr. Huxhold said a successful outcome of the course would be students gaining a new lens through which they can examine their career path and the potential future problems they may face.
“If it really became usable in a way that they can make connections for themselves about the various ways they communicate, and how the material we explored in class could then be moved forward to informing how they think and learn, I would think of our course as successful.”