Contest fuses art, neuroscience

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Art and neuroscience may seem like an odd pairing, but an annual art contest hosted by the neuroscience department suggests otherwise.

This year’s contest took place on March 12 in the Eyring Science Center and featured student-made artwork.

The winners of the competition were freshman Eleina Lucas in first place, junior Devin Downing in second place and master’s student Michelle Duersch in third. Lucas, Downing and Duersch received cash prizes of $300, $200 and $100 respectively.

Honorable mentions went to Quinn Romeril and doctoral student Sara Werner; each received a cash prize of $50.

From a water fountain to acrylic paint to embroidery, the diversity of artwork the neuroscience art competition draws parallels the complexity of the brain and how it perceives itself.

Devin Downing, one of this year’s contestants and winners, explained the brain’s unique capacity for self-awareness.

“The brain is a very special organ,” Downing said. “It named itself. It refers to itself in the third person. And, on occasion, it likes to paint self-portraits.”

A remodel of the neuroscience center two years ago left the walls glaringly empty. Neuroscience is one of the only majors on campus to have its own center because of its mobility between two colleges. Neuroscience Center secretary Jessica Walton explained its unique situation.

“Neuroscience, in general, is kind of awkward because it’s caught between psychology and life sciences,” Walton said. “Every three years, the college that it’s housed in changes.”

Walton said the major is currently part of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, but in a few years, it will cycle back into the college of physiology and developmental biology.

Assistant teaching professor and painter Rebekka Matheson, faced with the center’s white, newly renovated walls, began envisioning them filled with brain-inspired, student-made art.

According to Walton, Matheson wanted to showcase the interests and talents of neuroscience students outside of studying the brain. From that idea, the contest was born.

The first competition occurred in 2018, and Matheson said the judges were astounded by the artwork’s quality and creativity.

Faculty in the neuroscience department decided to host the competition again this year and entries increased from 10 to 16.

Depictions of the body’s most complex organ ranged from the minuscule firing of a neurotransmitter to a vast constellation of the brain in the night sky.

Alongside the artwork, students included descriptions of their art’s subject matter and what compelled them to study the brain.

Neuroscience student Audrey Chou said one of her interests in the brain stemmed from animal anatomy.

“Despite our many differences and different capacities to think, we all share (the) same basic blueprint, and I wanted to show this connection,” Chou said.

Neuroscience student and mother of five Katrina Lantz expressed her unique point of intrigue came from the generations of mental health in her family.

“I come from a rich tapestry of mental health problems and creative genius,” said Lanz. “The nervous system is an intricate and complex system, equal parts biology and physics. ‘Alive and Awake’ explores that connection.”

Much of the artwork also paid homage to great thinkers and their relationship with the brain. These included Camillo Golgi, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Virginia Woolf, Hermann Rorschach and Jesus Christ.

According to Walton, some faculty members have inquired about purchasing the artwork, a possibility that may come to fruition in the future.

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