For years I’ve had a running joke with one of my middle school colleagues. Each year his science students learn about bridges and their studies culminate with The Bridge Project. Each student selects a bridge based on the kind they believe will be the strongest. All bridges are carefully made from toothpicks and hot glue and ultimately will be tested for strength by attaching weights to it until it breaks. It’s a contest to see which bridge will hold up the most weight. These tiny bridges are beautiful and I always say, “This isn’t science, this is art,” which lovingly annoys my colleague, but to me, the delicate wooden constructions can be enjoyed for their form alone. I have my daughter’s hanging on my wall as sculptural art.
I tell my students that artists and scientists are alike in many ways. They both observe the world closely and they both ask the question, “I wonder what would happen if . . .” Many well-known artists have a background in science and many have studied to be doctors. During the Italian Renaissance, science, math and art all came together as never before in history. Back then, if you were a scientist, you were also a mathematician and artist. The talents and skills of all three vocations intertwined. It was during the Renaissance that human corpses were dissected for educational purposes, and thus, muscles, tendons and bones were seen and understood which allowed for greater accuracy when drawing, or sculpting, the realistic, figurative style. Perspective was discovered and allowed a two-dimensional picture plane to trick the eye in believing that the space on the canvas surface was deep. Also, the great cathedral domes of Europe were architecturally rendered, engineered, built, and finally adorned with great works of art on their surfaces.
This past week a state of the art, $185 million science museum was unveiled in downtown Dallas. On opening day, my friends and I made use of the extended closing time of midnight, when we arrived to explore the Perot Museum of Nature and Science after attending several local gallery openings. We were astounded! This place is out-of-this-world, literally, in fact, when standing in the theater-like exhibit Journey Through the Solar System watching meteors and planets zoom across overhead! Click here to see what the New York Times’ author, Edward Rothstein, said about it. The building itself is stupendous! Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis, went all out in designing a contemporary building that makes me refrain from being mad at my city for not having a Frank Gehry building downtown.
I’ve never been in a more engaging, interactive museum. I turned into a kid again sensing the awe and wonder of the created universe! Immediately we took the exterior, glass escalator to the top floor and ran through the exhibits, hitting every floor. We only had an hour and a half. We didn’t even scrape the surface of all there is to do but, given the time we had, here are a few of my favorites:
Build a Bird: These interactive stations are dotted throughout the “bird floor”. You choose your body type, wings, color, diet, and tweet. At the end, you get to see the bird you created and watch it in a video. My bird ended up being a very overweight herbivore, tropically colorful and sung a beautiful song.
Be a Bird: This was amazing. After correctly positioning your body in front of a wall-sized screen, a film comes up that looks like an aerial view of Colorado with snow-topped mountains, evergreen forests and blue lakes. Then an eagle shows up and you’re off! You have to bend, turn and swing your arms to “fly” the bird, all while wearing 3D glasses! Sadly, most of my time was spent crashing into the trees!
Robotic Arm: Put a drop of water on your forearm and place it in a sensor device, pump a fist and watch the robotic arm move next to you. Weird and amazing!
Heat Sensor Wall: After walking onto a platform, the wall in front of you senses the temperature of your body and shows it on the screen in front of you in the form of a beautiful, 1960’s psychedelic wall painting! You could dance across the platform and watch the colors change!
Enormous Geode: In the Gem and Mineral Hall, (which we literally ran through and I’m dying to go back!), there was a display case with the largest boulder that you can imagine. As you turned the large crank wheel, the boulder starts opening. The light comes on and the geode is full of sparkling amethyst stones! Amazing! The colors of the gems and minerals were lit in such a way that the twinkles and sparkles entranced me and I felt a bit dizzy – like entering the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz!
Dinosaurs: This floor dynamically provokes awe, not only through the life size skeletons of enormous dinos that wandered around in Texas but also through a quiet introspection upon, again, realizing all the life forms that have come before us.
Globe Projection: This may have been my favorite. Using your hand to twirl the circular table, you could see, through a projected image on a globe-like sphere in the center, how the land masses broke up to become the continents. My friend and I were mesmerized watching India break free from the south of Africa and go crashing into where it now sits, causing the Himalayan Mountains to be born.
The new Perot Museum is definitely poetry in motion. The spheres were definitely in commotion and the elements in harmony. We were hit with technology and imagination. Go exploring this week, museum or not.
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This new page of my blog highlights some of my students’ artwork, 5th-12th grade.