Karen Linder

Karen Linder

Above picture: a "petal" painting, representing the arrangement of glandular cells. Karen Linder, oil, 2011

Cytotechnologist, Omaha

Article: Incorporating Art into the Scientist’s Life

I’ve always been torn between diverse interests. I love science, art, literature, business and sports. All of them. Maybe not equally, and certainly not all at the same time. But they all compete for my attention and I never feel quite satisfied with my level of knowledge, my frequency of practice or the quantity of experiences within any of these interests.

A liberal arts education at Nebraska Wesleyan University allowed me to major in Biology, enroll in Honors English, play in the jazz band and be on the tennis team. But my instrumental music interests prevented me from exploring the visual arts until I was well into adulthood.

After establishing my career in Cytotechnology (the study of cells) and starting a family, I began paying attention to fine art. I read biographies of every artist I admired, I visited museums and I bought paint supplies. I experimented with oil paint, oblivious to the technical process, other than what I could find in books. I started participating in small group shows and joining art groups. Eventually, I enrolled in a few adult education classes.

Cytology is a visual study that has been described as being more art than science. A cytotechnologist examines cells, looking for slight alteration in their normal appearance, indicating the presence of disease. I found that my experience with the microscope was helpful in enhancing my view of art. I have an analytic perspective of content, perspective and texture.

The beauty of microscopic life is incredibly varied and stimulating. It has inspired me to capture and share its existence with others. I’ve represented cells in both oil painting and in bronze. To the casual observer, they are abstract works of art, but they are realism in a world that we cannot visualize with the naked eye.

I believe there is comfort in defining ourselves. We are artists or we are scientists, or something else entirely. We are secure in our place in the world when we classify ourselves. The tradeoff for this comfort is a life of predictability. I believe there is room for art in everyone’s lives – the banker, the grocery checkout clerk, the nuclear physicist, the lawn service provider. Don’t define yourself so narrowly that you aren’t open to the enjoyment of appreciating and/or participating in the creation of art.