A conversation with J.D. Talasek, editor-in-chief of Leonardo

Talasek takes the helm as the new editor-in-chief of Leonardo, the international peer-reviewed journal on arts and sciences

J.D. Talasek

J.D. Talasek—a renowned curator, researcher, and writer—was recently appointed to the role of editor-in-chief of Leonardo, the leading international peer-reviewed journal on the use of contemporary science and technology in the arts and music.

Talasek’s distinguished career exploring the intersection of art and science through collaborative and integrative work makes him a natural fit to take the helm at Leonardo. Founded in 1968 in Paris by kinetic artist and astronautical pioneer Frank Malina, Leonardo publishes work that crosses the artificial boundaries separating contemporary arts and sciences. Featuring illustrated articles written by artists about their own work as well as articles by historians, theoreticians, philosophers and other researchers, the journal is particularly concerned with issues related to the interaction of the arts, sciences and technology.

In addition to his new work editing the journal, Talasek currently serves as Director of Cultural Programs at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., where he leads programs focused on the relationship between science, medicine, technology, and culture.

Read on for our conversation with Talasek about his new role at Leonardo and where he hopes to take the journal over the coming years.

The MIT Press: What drew you to the role as editor-in-chief of Leonardo?

J.D. Talasek: When Diana Ayton-Shenker, CEO of Leonardo, asked me to accept the appointment of editor-in-chief of Leonardo Journal, I was of course interested. I have a long history with Leonardo. I have served on the Board of Directors; I have chaired both Leonardo’s Education Art Forum (LEAF) and LASER (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous), which now can boast of over 50 venue partners around the world. So I was thrilled to be asked to contribute in this new role. 

My interest is specifically the role that the journal plays in creating a space—a place for communities working on new trajectories of knowledge—to share information, perspectives and encouragement. There are many needs in different sectors of society for collaborative efforts, from academia to industry and policy makers on all levels. Frank Malina’s original idea behind the journal in 1968 was that it would be modeled after a science journal where research can be shared and therefore assist in knowledge production in this space between art, science, and technology. The potential of such collaborations excites me and Leonardo is the original hub.

The MIT Press: What are you most looking forward to accomplishing in your first year as editor-in-chief?

Talasek: I think the editorial team at Leonardo is amazing. They are dedicated to not just producing a journal but in building something with impact. I look forward to working with them to broaden the reach of the journal while maintaining the integrity and rigor of a peer-reviewed publication. 

In recent years we have acknowledged the fact that the terrain between disciplines has changed significantly since the journal was founded. And the potential of integrative and collaborative practice is great. The terms art, science and technology represent a much more complex system with a myriad of new trajectories of knowledge production. The potential of these new trajectories to have impact is significant and applications of new novel ideas can change the way that we think about important issues that we all care about—like climate change; race and equity; healthcare and well-being; disaster and conflict response. The list goes on. The journal is a sandbox by which we can imagine that which we have not yet dared to imagine and it becomes a platform for ideation that can translate into action.

The MIT Press: Are there any particular recent articles from Leonardo that you admire?

Talasek: For over 20 years, I have served at the National Academy of Science (NAS), and for many of those years I have directed the office of Cultural Programs with the goals of fostering conversations between disciplines and exploring how creative practices in all areas can inform one another. Dr. Johannes Lehmann, who was recently elected to NAS membership, wrote an article that Leonardo published in 2023 about the potential that art thinking might have on science practice. Lehmann and his colleagues put forth the notion of the “problem of the problem” is that asking the right creative question is key to scientific research. Creating the “right question” often comes from a sense of play or curiosity, rather than utility or an effort to focus on an outcome. 

This is one of many examples of how we see one discipline influencing the framework of another. Of course this example shows how thinking in art can influence research in science—but the almost sixty years of articles in Leonardo reflect that the influence goes both ways, creating a space to share artistic research that is influenced by other disciplines as well. 

The MIT Press: How do you hope to shape the journal in the coming years? 

Talasek: As Lehmann’s article reflects, there is a growing interest in this space between disciplines—a vast terrain full of possibilities. The editorial team at Leonardo is dedicated to creating a space that reflects this groundswell of thought and activity among creative practitioners in all epistemologies. The team is in discussion about how to enhance our design and format to help build bridges in thought and ideation. The power of Frank Malina’s founding idea—to create a journal that helps build a community of practitioners who are working between the silos—translates to the needs of the 21st century. In fact, collaboration and integration of knowledge is more important now than ever. 

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