academics & research

Themester presentation studies relationship between science and art



Does life imitate art or vice versa? Biology professor Roger Hangarter and Grunwald Gallery curator Betsy Stirratt attempted to answer that question Wednesday night with a presentation on Indiana’s wilderness as part of IU’s ongoing Themester.

The presentation focused on photographs Hangarter had taken in a one and a half mile loop of the Yellowwood State Forest in August. Though he’d taken hundreds more, Stirratt selected the 25 she said felt were the most artistically beautiful.

Each semester, the College of Arts and Sciences invites speakers with significant scholarly or creative credentials and who present on a specified theme throughout the semester. The theme for this semester is “beauty.”

Though a scientist, Hangarter did not stray from exploring the greater artistic and philosophical implications of humans’ ability to appreciate nature.

“All of the beauty that we talk about ... derives from nature, because we derive from nature,” he said.

The photographs that followed included lime green frogs, mushrooms bathed in their own spores and spider webs emitting complex patterns of light.

Planned by a committee of IU professors and undergraduate students from a variety of academic backgrounds, Themester seeks to engage IU students across a variety of disciplines.

This installment aimed to show the beauty of biology.

As he traded off commentary with Stirratt between photographs, Hangarter typically explained the name of the organism pictured. Occasionally, he sought audience participation.

With an audience of about 50 biology majors and professors, it was not hard to find someone willing to identify anything from a star-shaped fungus to a butterfly with a question mark pattern on its wings.

Hangarter wished to impart a greater appreciation of nature’s aesthetics to his audience, one he implied might not be most in touch with it.

“When I teach my students, they don’t know anything about the world outside,” Hangarter said. “A lot of us biologists ... we forget that there’s all these things outside.”

Though Stirratt admitted the projector used to show the images didn’t do the colors justice, she said she selected the pictures off of her taste, as well as the emotional reaction the images give her.

At times her demeanor was as relaxed as 
Hangarter’s.

“If you think it’s a bunch of baloney, you can tell me,” she said, commenting on her own analysis of Hangarter’s work. “And some of it is 
baloney.”

Above all, the presenters sought to give their audience a new appreciation for the organisms living in Indiana.

“It doesn’t matter what day it is,” Hangarter said. “You go out and walk in the woods, and you’ll see something amazing.”

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