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The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice by John Maeda, Mara Hermano, Rosanne Somerson

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The Nature Imperative

Neal Overstrom

How does nature inform artists and designers today? And how is nature, as seen through the eyes of critical makers, becoming increasingly relevant far beyond the realm of art and design? Neal Overstrom, Director of RISD’s Nature Lab, describes this beloved resource — established in 1937 by artist and faculty member Edna Lawrence — as offering not only inspiration through nature’s forms, but a crucial context for exploring, interpreting, and sharing the essential human-nature connection and its potential for artists and designers.

 

Walking into the Nature Lab at Rhode Island School of Design is like stepping into a Victorian cabinet of curiosities. Worn floorboards creaking underfoot, we’re surrounded by wood and glass cabinets brimming with taxidermic birds and mammals, vertebrate bones, dried plants and seeds, mollusk shells, marine corals, and other such artifacts from the living world. Head mounts of African and North American game animals peer down from above, butterflies in glass boxes form a colorful mosaic, and if we look carefully we might even find a winged rabbit tucked away on a shelf (fig. 49). In so many ways the space seems reminiscent of an era when natural history was a dominant field of science, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace advanced new ideas on the origins of life, and the notion prevailed that through careful collection, observation, and categorizing of specimens even laypeople could understand the relationships between ...

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