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What is Interdisciplinary Art and How can it Liberate your Work


In understanding what is interdisciplinary art, we must define what interdisciplinary art encompasses and what it doesn’t include, and examine what the works of famous interdisciplinary artists teach us about both concept and medium in the art-making process.

What are Interdisciplinary Arts?

In a broad sense, interdisciplinary art is a form of artistic expression that draws upon multiple disciplines, such as science, technology, literature, philosophy, and so on, in order to create a new and unique artistic experience. This type of art often blurs the boundaries between different fields and creates a new type of work that is greater than the sum of its parts.

This type of art often questions the conventions of traditional art forms, such as painting and photography, and encourages experimentation, innovation, and cross-cultural exchange. It also aims to stimulate critical thinking and engage audiences in new ways by incorporating elements from multiple disciplines and inviting them to consider new and different viewpoints.

Oftentimes, Interdisciplinary art, more specifically, can refer to the implementation or combination of many different forms of creative mediums, such as conceptual art, performance, video, painting, sculpture, and installation, in one work, or in a body of work. In such cases, interdisciplinary art centers on the concept and searches for an appropriate avenue or method of artistic production to best suit the concept.

What sets Interdisciplinary Art Apart?

The term interdisciplinary art can be used and misused widely to cover a range artforms which stem from varying origins. There is a distinction between a multidisciplinary vs interdisciplinary artist, albeit both involve the integration of multiple disciplines.

  • Multidisciplinary art refers to the collaboration of artists and practitioners from multiple disciplines working together on a single project or idea. It involves the integration of several distinct disciplines, each of which is treated as a separate entity. One clear example of multidisciplinary art in action is cinema, where photography, screenwriting, and music merge to tell a single story.
  • Interdisciplinary art, on the other hand, refers to a practice that draws from two or more different disciplines and incorporates elements of those disciplines into a new, integrated work of art. It involves a fusion of different disciplines, where the boundaries between them are blurred and a new form is created that transcends the individual disciplines.

Similarly, a line can be drawn between interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and cross-disciplinary art. Cross-disciplinary art refers to the integration of elements from one discipline into another. It involves the transfer of knowledge, methods, or techniques from one discipline to another.

The final distinction in definition which may be useful is the term Multimedia art in comparison to interdisciplinary art. Multimedia art, also called Mixed Media, refers to works of art that use a combination of different media, such as video, sound, images, and text, to create a single, integrated work. It involves the use of multiple technological tools and platforms to create a multi-sensory experience for the audience.

One good example of interdisciplinary artwork which overlaps with mixed media are the painted photographs of Duane Michals. Michals, who began his art studies in painting and continued to become an influential and experimental photographer, later incorporated oil paint and text to his printed photographs.

In using multiple mediums in photography and painting, Michals also mixes art various art styles in works, pulling from cubism and pop art. You can find more examples of Duane Michal’s painted photographs here.

So while interdisciplinary art can involve the use of mixed media techniques, the term can encompass a broader fusion of different disciplines, such as science, technology, and the arts. In other words, multimedia art involves the use of multiple media to create a single work, while interdisciplinary art involves the fusion of different disciplines, which may or may not include the use of multiple media.

Examples of Interdisciplinary Art

Christian Marclay The Clock

One modern example of interdisciplinary art is the work of Swiss artist Christian Marclay. Marclay’s art practice often combines elements of visual art, music, and performance to create multimedia installations that explore the relationship between sound and image.

His work “The Clock” is a 24-hour-long video collage that consists of thousands of film and television clips that have timepieces or references to time, spliced together to create a functioning clock that runs in real-time.

“The Clock” is a good example of interdisciplinary art as it draws on elements from the fields of film, video, music, installation, and performance to create a unique and engaging experience for the viewer.

Here, the emphasis of the work is time, and you could say that the subject matter is so ‘big’ that is almost necessitates multiple channels to encompass. In this example, the medium chosen to express this concept is fragmented video and sound, in a loop, without a beginning or end. Essentially, the concept informs not only the content but the form of the work.

Jenny Holzer LED Projections

Another contemporary example of interdisciplinary art is the work of Jenny Holzer. Holzer is an American artist who works primarily with text and light projections. The text she uses is often derived from literature, poetry, and other written sources, and her projections incorporate elements of performance and public art as they are often displayed in public spaces and engage with political and social issues.

One of her famous works is the LED projections series “Truisms”, where she projects large-scale texts on buildings and public spaces, often with thought-provoking or provocative messages.

This series of installations crosses multiple boundaries in both medium and subject. Her medium takes installation in public space and crosses it with light art, however, one could also conclude that her ultimate medium, and at the same time concept, is language itself.

Holzer’s work highlights the importance of language in shaping our perceptions of the world, and the role it plays in creating meaning and shaping our understanding of events and issues. Her public displays of the language of thought, feeling, and belief, challenge the relationship between language, power, and control, and how the words and messages that we receive can influence our thinking and behaviors.

Oliver Mark Jenny Holzer’s Hands

Ironically, another good example of interdisciplinary art is the work Jenny Holzer’s hands by Oliver Mark. Mark chose to represent Holzer through her hands rather than through more recognizable features of her face.

But in addition to creating a non-traditional portrait of Jenny Holzer, Mark manages through the presentation of the work to combine the disciplines of photography with sculpture and installation.

Interdisciplinary Art example, what is interdisciplinar art, photograph which sculpture
Jenny Holzer‘s hands, Leipzig 1996. © Oliver Mark / CC BY-SA 4.0

The work, Jenny Holzer’s hands, displays a black and white photograph of hands opening up, while embedded in a flattened box wooden form, signaling that the box itself has also been ‘opened’.

The interplay between the photography and the display gives the work a new dimension in understanding the significance of Jenny Holzer as an artist and how her LED works, such as her truisms, help us as viewers to think out of the box when confronted with large, abstract concepts.

Together, we see how Holzer and her work, informed the decisions taken by Mark, and can loosely be considered a kind of collaboration of free thinking artistic minds. Also, we see how the task of merely producing a portrait was, from the beginning, taken with an interdisciplinary approach to touch on the subtleties of Holzer’s art and legacy.

Interdisciplinary Art Out of the Box

In short, Interdisciplinary art teaches us several important lessons about the art-making process:

  1. Breaking down boundaries: Interdisciplinary art blurs the boundaries between different disciplines, encouraging artists to break down traditional barriers and explore new approaches to art making.
  2. Collaboration: Interdisciplinary art often involves collaboration between artists and practitioners from different disciplines, providing opportunities for new perspectives and cross-disciplinary exchange.
  3. Innovation: By combining different disciplines, interdisciplinary art encourages artists to take risks, try new things, and push the boundaries of what is possible in their art.
  4. Integration: Interdisciplinary art teaches us about the importance of integrating different elements and perspectives to create a cohesive and meaningful whole.
  5. Holistic thinking: Interdisciplinary art requires a holistic approach to problem-solving and creative processes, where artists must consider the connections and relationships between different elements of their work, including the context in which it is presented.
  6. Multiple perspectives: Interdisciplinary art provides the opportunity to incorporate multiple perspectives and modes of knowledge, making the art-making process more inclusive and diverse.

In summary, interdisciplinary art teaches us about the importance of breaking down traditional boundaries, collaboration, innovation, integration, holistic thinking, and incorporating multiple perspectives in the art-making process.

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