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Multiple Universes, 2015. All paintings by Joanne Topol.

Guest post by Joanne TopolGSA-Art features the creative works of scientists. Read more in GSA President Stan Fields’ call for submissions. If you would like to submit your own work or nominate someone else’s, please send an email to GenesToGenomes@genetics-gsa.org with “GSA-Art” in the subject line.


My art reflects inner feelings that cannot be accessed through analytic thought. These feelings are revealed through the color, shape, tone, and texture choices I make on an instinctive, intuitive level. Although intuition drives my imagination, I still rely on linear, logical thinking when confronting questions of space and composition. To successfully integrate the analytical with the unconscious, a carefully orchestrated dance must take place between the two.

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Spring Time, 2012

As I dig deeper into the creative process of painting, I am continually searching for novel ways to orchestrate that dance. By listening to audiobooks and podcasts while I paint, I have discovered that the regions of the brain needed to execute those tasks are able to function more effectively together than when each task is tackled on its own.  In other words, I paint more expressively and processes auditory information more comprehensively when I engage in both activities at the same time. But more importantly, by forcing both those regions of my brain to work simultaneously, the integration of the intuitive and the logical becomes organic.

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Strutting, 2015

In addition to my career as a visual artist, I earned a PhD in molecular genetics from the California Institute of Technology in 1990. For my thesis project, I analyzed the transcriptional control of the Drosophila segmentation gene fushi tarazu (ftz). As a post-doctoral fellow, I continued working on the regulation of early embryonic development in Drosophila, first in Howard Lipshitz’s lab and then in Edward Lewis’ lab. In 2000, I left science completely and embarked on a full-time career as an artist. Since then, I have exhibited and sold my artwork at a number of solo and group shows on the east and west coasts.

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Wholehearted, 2016

I have studied both art and science throughout my education. These parallel pursuits began during my undergraduate years at Brown University, and continued at the University of Michigan, where I received a Masters degree in Human Genetics. While earning my doctorate at Caltech, I attended classes at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. In addition, I have studied monotype and collage techniques at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena.

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The Embrace, 2016

It is the spirit of adventure and discovery in the artistic process that inspires me to paint, just as it drew me to scientific research many years ago. I see other similarities in the creative processes of art and science: both involve risk-taking and rule breaking, and both require that dance.  But as a visual artist, more so than as a scientist, I am willing to let my imagination guide me, despite the risk that entails. I let my sense of calm and balance, movement and energy inform me, even though I am left without the proper words to describe my intent.

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Submerged, 2014

 

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Illumnated View, 2014

 

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The Big Wave, 2016

 

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Party Time, 2015

 
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Friendship, 2015

 

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  1. Joanne Topol says:

    Multiple Universes:

    Acrylic on paper 21 X 28.5 inches

    Spring Time:
    Acrylic on paper 19 X 15 inches

    Strutting:

    Acrylic on paper 23 X 17.5 inches

    Wholehearted:
    Acrylic on paper 24 X 19 inches

    The Embrace:
    Acrylic/mixed media on paper 24 X 19 inches

    Submerged:

    Acrylic on paper 20.5 X 16 inches

    Illuminated View:
    Acrylic on paper 22 X 19 inches

    The Big Wave:
    Acrylic on paper 21 X 16 inches

    Party Time:

    Acrylic on paper 23.5 X 31.5 inches

    Friendship:
    Acrylic on paper 19.5 X 29 inches

  2. Bill McClain says:

    Your paintings are great, to say the least. I was captured by the visual arts at an early age (Æ 3) perhaps because my mother was an artist. As I view your works, I sense your shifting moods.

    PS: I would have appreciated annotations giving the medium (media) and sizes.

    • Joanne Topol says:

      Dear Bill,

      Thank you so much for your comments on my GSA blog entry. (I apologize for not responding sooner.) I was particularly struck by your observation that my shifting mood can be seen in my artwork. It took me several years of painting before I became aware of that myself. I can still recall noticing the dark nature of the work I was creating in the weeks following 9/11. In fact, it was this deepening trust in the power of the unconscious to influence the conscious that convinced me to let my instincts, not my thoughts, control my creative process (a challenging task for someone who is logical and linear to a fault). It took many more years of painting before I found ways to balance the analytical with the unconscious. What I have yet to discover is how to fully integrate the two, that is, how to intentionally control my unconscious instincts without destroying them in the process.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with me. Your insightful comment is all the more meaningful, in light of your longstanding passion for the visual arts and the amazing collection of works you generously donated to MMoCA in 2010. I am inspired by the boldness and vibrancy of many of the Chicago Imagists whose work you collected.

      I will take your advice and add, in a separate comment, the medium and sizes of the pieces included in my post.

      Warmest wishes, Joanne

  3. Henry Levin says:

    These are uniquely beautiful. I hope Eric Kandel can explain the neural pathways that result in our appreciate of such beauty.

    • Joanne Topol says:

      Henry,

      I have been meaning to respond to your comment ever since you posted it two weeks ago, but I got temporarily derailed by my anxiety and depression from the disturbing election result. I am finally coming back to life.

      Your curiosity about the neural pathways responsible for one’s perception of beauty, in combination with your expressed appreciation of my artwork, triggered a thought I have not articulated until now. As I processed your comment, it occurred to me that having a brain that is wired more like a scientist’s than an artist’s may also mean that my artwork is more accessible to scientists than to artists. To find beauty in an image, I need to feel the logic in its structure and see patterns within the chaos, even if those perceptions are intuitive and not articulable. It is no surprise that one’s aesthetic sensibilities are informed by other areas of the brain; what I had neglected to focus on was that by satisfying my own “pleasure center,” I could tap into the “pleasure centers” of other scientists, as well.

      Thanks so much for your thought-provoking comment, Joanne

      • Henry Levin says:

        Dear Joanne,
        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I find your response very interesting. I was referring to a recent lecture and book by Eric Kandel about understanding the unconscious appreciation of art. It was a tantalizing lecture that described neuropathways that respond to art but didnt explain really the elements of art that stimulate the pathways. To me it seems like structures, color patterns, and parallel objects must do something particularly interesting for our brains. Please keep up the wonderful art work.

        • Joanne Topol says:

          Thanks again, Henry. I will definitely check out Eric Kandel’s new book. I suspect it will have an impact on the way I view my empirical experience of brain activity in relation to the artistic process; it sounds fascinating! Best, Joanne

  4. Jasper Rine says:

    Wow! These paintings are amazing. Better than I have seen in many museums.