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Art, Design, Science and Ethics


Admission requirements

See Teaching and Examination Regulations.

This is an MA course for the specializations:

  • Art in the Contemporary World and World Art Studies;

  • Design and Decorative Art Studies.

The course can also be attended as a specialist course for the MA Arts and Culture free component (10 EC) of any other specialisation or MA program of Leiden University.


In this seminar we will discuss some of the most critical and cutting-edge art and design: art and design interacting with the biological sciences and biotechnologies, i.e. Bio-Art and Bio-Design. We will discuss the different media of art and design works and the implications of particular media for the workings of art and design, and their possible effect and affect. We will connect the art and design projects to ethical and cultural questions and debates in our society, and analyze them by examining their visual rhetoric.

Bio-Art and Bio-Design are practiced by a growing number of international artists and designers. These artists are stimulated by the biological sciences and work with new, living materials (such as tissue, DNA, cells) that do not belong to the traditional artistic realm. The use of these living materials in art and design practices implies the application of tools and technologies of the biological sciences in the arts. With the use of these biomaterials, artists and designers also adopt the discourses and practices of the scientific lab, reflecting on the biosciences and biotechnologies by designing future scenarios of what might happen to human beings and animals when particular technologies become part of our daily lives.

Course objectives

Students learn to:

  • analyse contemporary forms of art and design in a critical way and relate them to other contemporary practices;

  • reflect on art and design from perspectives of ethical and moral frameworks;

  • express critical insights of readings of a philosopical nature in panel discussions;

  • evaluate presentations of their peers in referent panels;

  • present a poster pitch of their research project before class;

  • present their results in a written paper with an analysis of academic quality;

  • reflect on their progress and participation during the course in a course portfolio.


Please consult the timetable on the MA Arts and Culture website.

Mode of instruction

Research Seminar with panel presentations on course readings, group discussions on course readings, poster pitches and guest speaker or one day excursion.

Course Load

Total course load is 10 ec x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • seminars: 3 hours per week x 13 weeks = 39 hours;

  • studying compulsory readings for seminars = 210 pages a 7 pages per hour = 30 hours;

  • preparing panel presentation, 2 days = 16 hours (reading and discussion of given text with other panel members, preparing presentation);

  • preparing review panel, 1 day = 8 hours (critical reading of given text with other panel members);

  • preparing poster pitch, 3 days = 24 hours (designing poster after collecting material from the start of the seminar);

  • preparing course portfolio, 3 days = 24 hours (editing notes, writing portfolio of 3000 words);

  • writing of final course paper = 280 – 141 = 140 hours (rereading texts, collecting research material, searching and reading additional literature, composing and writing of paper, 5000 words).

Assessment method

  • 20%: panel presentation and review panel;

  • 30%: poster pitch presentation and course portfolio of 3000 words;

  • 50%: seminar paper of 5000 words.

The final grade is the avarage of the three grades (20%, 30%, 50%), as mentioned. This average must be 6.0 minimal in order to pass the seminar.

In addition, the final paper (50%) must be graded with 6.0 minimal. Students may opt for one second chance if this paper is graded under 6.0.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • readings;

  • shared course documents;

  • shared documents of assignments;

  • panel presentations.

Reading list

The following book gives a handy overview of Bio-Design projects:

  • William Myers and Paola Antonelli (editors), Bio Design: Nature + Science + Creativity Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2012 (ca. € 30).


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Exchange and Study Abroad students: Please see the website Study in Leiden for information on how to apply/register for this course.

Students who are not in the MA Arts and Culture programme, but who would like to take this course as an optional course, please contact Mrs. Martine van Leeuwen MA the co-ordinator of studies.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Provisional course schedule:
1 Introduction;
2 Panel discussion of readings;
3 Panel discussion of readings;
4 Panel discussion of readings;
5 Panel discussion of readings;
6 Excursion or guest speaker;
7 Discussion of research topics for final paper, also individually;
8 Panel discussion of readings;
9 Panel discussion of readings;
10 Panel discussion of readings;
11 Poster pitch and discussion of research topics for paper;
12 Poster pitch and discussion of research topics for paper;
13 Summing up for research topics and course paper.


Mw. Dr. M.H. (Marjan) Groot
Dhr. Prof. dr. ing. R. (Rob) Zwijnenberg