More on scientists and creativity- “Art and Soup”

Time is flying by in a blur. I know this, because I have begun measuring time in blogs. Not “a few weeks ago,” but rather “a few blogs ago.” Yes, well a few blogs ago I brought up the issue of creationism creativity and science, intent on making the point that contrary to some popular misconceptions, many scientists are creative.

I met with a little bit of resistance from some of our own bloggers, perhaps due to my poor choice of examples of such creativity. For example, I used blogging itself as a mode of creativity, with the members of our little collective putting forth unique samples of their writing. I also took a frustrating example of my own: in having to devise creative methods to overcome the disastrous e-mail system that will soon be only a bad memory by next week. My ingenious solution to these e-mail issues, it was argued by some some of the readers, was more on the line of a problem-solving task–perhaps not akin to true creativity. Point taken.

But now I want to relate to an example of real creativity–creating something from nothing. Or worse than nothing–from the ashes of unfunded grants or unaccepted manuscripts. True creativity. Allow me to explain…

Let me begin with a photo:

Dr. Naava Naslavsky, recipient of the 2012 Best Artist award at the annual Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) “Art & Soup” fundraiser

Naava has always loved sculpture, but has been increasingly refining her paper mache skills over the past few years. The VNA fundraiser invites only a few dozen jury-selected artists to participate each year, and I believe that this is Naava’s 3rd year in a row. Many of the artists indeed do art on a full-time basis, so for a researcher slogging away at experiments, papers and grants to find the time to put together an exhibition to compete with such focused artists is no trivial matter. It’s not merely creativity, but a burning desire or dedication to churn out art.

Naava’s newest pieces are often exhibited at Omaha’s Blue Pomegranate art gallery (see the paper mache section).

So the 2012 Art & Soup began well last Sunday morning, and we were able to set up Naava’s pieces nicely, very glad to have the extra table that she had requested in advance. Until—a person who never actually introduced herself but assumed a posture of authority (and it later turned out was another artist) came by demanding that we down-scale our display to a single table.

Being a pleasant sort, Naava regretfully began to agree, seeing that the authority figure was bent on having her way, claiming inequality to other artists. But that’s why I was there. No, no no. You don’t survive the military and 10 years in an academic position by bending over to receive a kick in the butt. The table stayed.

And justice for all. The double-table display just before starting.

Let the fundraiser begin!

The ballerina. Recently.

The beetles. Only 1 of the pair was sold!

Suntan lady was also sold.

Split reader.

The needle nurse went within minutes. What do you expect at a Visiting Nurse Association fundraiser?

Shopping therapy was also a hit.

Finally, a few animals:

And finally, the one I’ll never let her sell. It’s MINE!


The science enthusiast. First featured in my second-ever blog, “The Age of Reason” in 2010.

All in all, the Art & Soup was a great success, with 50% of the proceeds going directly to the VNA. I also didn’t realize one could fill up on so many different kinds of soup!

So who still says scientists aren’t creative?

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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8 Responses to More on scientists and creativity- “Art and Soup”

  1. This is very fun, and I recognize that sculpture of you from that blog post, lo these many eons months ago.

    We’ve had a couple of “Art in Science” exhibitions here, to raise funds for our new Research and Learning Tower. The first of them was very focused on photography and other “hang on the wall” artwork, and featured a really wide variety of lovely micrographs and the like, with various degrees of post-processing applied. As well as some wonderful situational photos from a Doc who was on a recent African community medicine exhibition, and the like.

    I love this kind of thing. 🙂

  2. rpg says:

    I still take issue.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear before—I don’t take issue with the claim that scientists are creative; rather I disagree that anybody seriously believes “scientists aren’t creative.”

  3. stephenemoss says:

    Steve – these are terrific, and undoubtedly ‘creative’. Question is, can anything be creative? By which I mean, do things have to be ‘good’ to count? If I were to attempt to make sculptures like this they would be justly ridiculed, and I’m not sure that producing a table of artless abominations would give me a creative badge.

    By the way, at first glance I thought the ballerina was the Queen.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      That’s a great point about creativity. I think the answer lies in the fact that creative people derive enjoyment from there creativity. So if you are like me, and can’t even draw a stick figure, it becomes frustrating and taxing to draw and therefore I don’t do it! By this logic I would argue that a “non-talented” artist who continues to produce art is creative.

      I once had a teacher in 7th grade (age 13-14) who was teaching the rather unusual poetry of e.e. Cummings. A student said “I could write that!” And the teacher’s reply was “but you didn’t!”

      As for the ballerina: having lived part of my childhood as a naturalized Canadian citizen, all I can say about your point about the ballerina and queen is: No Comment!

      • Continuing the Canadian connection, a similar argument was made about the (in)famous Voice of Fire, with some objectors to its $1.8 million price tag saying things like “it’s three stripes of colours – anyone could do that!”. The counter-argument is just as the teacher you mentioned stated – “but they didn’t, Newman did, and because of that it’s a significant piece of abstract art”.

        As for
        ee cummings; he
        is (not again, but always)

        inmotion but perhapsnot


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