GSA-Art: Joanne Topol
Guest post by Joanne Topol. GSA-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.