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Art & Life Sciences


Admission requirements



This is a unique course jointly organized by Art History and Biomedical sciences and open to art history students and biomedical students. In four weeks with sessions twice a week and obligatory visits to labs and museum you will intensively exchange with biomedical students and go far beyond the disciplinary boundaries of art history.

This course examines the interactions between life sciences and art. From the onset of medical research in history, the cultural worlds of art and science have interacted. More recently, artists have been directly inspired by genetic and biomedical sciences. The science-art relationship has become an exciting and dynamic field where controversial ethical issues, societal consequences of science, and the art of science itself are being addressed. How do artworks on biomedicine provoke new ways of thinking about science and the world? How did molecular genetics become a symbol in visual culture? And in what way do art and science interact and evoke debate?

In this course, five issues addressed by biomedical art are discussed:

  • 1 Artist and anatomy: science and art in an historical perspective;

  • 2 Ethics and aesthetics of biomedical sciences: genomics and genetic art;

  • 3 Living materials?: tissue culture in science and art;

  • 4 Visual culture beyond research practice: brain scans as icons;

  • 5 Animals in research and art: the fate of transgenic animals.

Course objectives

The student:

  • will reflect on the biomedical research practice by discussing biomedical art;

  • will gain insights into social and cultural consequences of biomedical sciences by study of art works;

  • will be able to signal ethical issues and controversies in science addressed by art;

  • will broaden his/her perspective on science by working in interdisciplinary groups of Science and Art students.


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

Starting September 22th 2015; sessions twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) for four weeks. (Last session October 16th 2015).

Mode of instruction

Seminar: Tutorials twice per week, lecture once per week, three group visits to lab or museum.
Students will furthermore work on a case study of their choice and produce a paper and give a presentation about the case study.

Cours load

  • for art history students 5 ec (140 hours);

  • for biomedical students 6 ec (168 hours).

Assessment method

  • participation in discussions (25%);

  • written paper (50%);

  • presentation of case study during final symposium on art & science (25%).

Writing a new paper (75%).


Blackboard will be used for:

  • readings;

  • shared course documents;

  • shared documents of assignments;

  • panel presentations.

Reading list

  • Albano, C., Arnold, K. & M. Wallace. Head on: art with the brain in mind. Artakt.

  • Anker, S. & Nelkin, D. (2004). The Molecular Gaze. Art in the Genetic Age. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

  • Arends, B. & Thackara, D. (Eds.) (2003). Experiment: Conversations in Art and Science. London: The Wellcome Trust.

  • Dumit, J. (2003). Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Ede, S. (Ed.) (2000). Strange and Charmed: Science and the Contemporary Visual Arts. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

  • Ede, S. (2005). Art and Science. London: Tauris.

  • Gast, E. ter. (2007). Biotech Pioneers. A philosophical inquiry concerning the genetically engineered mouse. Amsterdam: RTODTO.

  • Kac, E. (ed) (2007). Signs of life. Bioart and beyond. Cambridge Ma: MIT Press.

  • Kemp, M. (2000). Visualizations: The Nature Book of Art and Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press;

  • other literature and web-information as assigned by teacher.


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.

Aanmelden Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.




Dhr. Prof. dr. ing. R. (Rob) Zwijnenberg