13 Ways of Looking at Creativity

Alison Weaver, photo by Tommy LaVergne

What makes a painting by 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer distinctly recognizable? The intimate settings? The natural light and shadows? The exquisite details?

Most people would probably not answer, “the painter’s use of technology.” But art historians surmise that Vermeer employed an early version of the camera — called the camera obscura — to achieve some of these thrilling effects. 

Alison Weaver, the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director of the Moody Center, recently shared stories about Vermeer’s use of the pinhole camera, Leonardo da Vinci’s engineering drawings and Edgar Degas’ groundbreaking compositions to illuminate the catalytic nature of the arts. As one of the guest speakers in the 2018–2019 Scientia Lecture Series, Weaver brought her expertise as an art historian, administrator and advocate for cross-disciplinary exploration to the topic of creativity. 

At the Moody Center, Weaver is leading a robust program that fosters creative conversations and experiences that step across the lines of traditional academic boundaries. “We’re actively engaged in such questions as, How do art, science and technology relate to each other? ”

Now entering its third year, the Moody Center’s programming is leaning hard into that intersection. Through exhibitions, university classes, artists-in-residence programs, theater and dance performances, student workshops and other experiments, Weaver and her staff are creating opportunities for different fields to come together and be inspired to think differently.  

For example, in their inaugural season, the center hosted German photographer Thomas Struth. His large-scale images of particle colliders, chemistry labs and NASA’s Johnson Space Center are both familiar and inscrutable. Struth’s image of the “Z-Pinch Plasma Lab,” a device that generates magnetic fields by producing fusion power through compressing plasma, is dazzling in its complexity, with elements of the familiar. “This is an example of how an artist’s vision of our technological university is feeding back into the cultural conversation about the dialogue between the man-made and the natural world,” Weaver added.      

While heady topics such as plasma physics, space science and ecology are right at home on Rice’s campus, this robust connectivity with the world of art and humanities is something new. “We want to be a lab for creativity,” Weaver said. Like the groundbreaking artists of the past, these connections help us see the world more clearly — and with thrilling effects.