— Symbiartic SciArt (@Symbiartic) February 22, 2015
on: February 22, 2015 at 04:44PM
I have a terrible habit of putting faces on just about everything I draw, whether it be atoms, bacteria, or personified evolution. I’ve often wondered if this does a disservice to my science art subjects, but I continue to do it because I feel like a well-placed friendly face can make people so much more comfortable with the subject matter.
My target audience is usually science-phobes, people who see words like molecule and run for the hills. I sometimes try to lure such readers and lessen their anxiety with a terribly unscientific happy face. But at the same time, I’m sure, I’m angering the traditional science lover who doesn’t need those grins on all the microbes I draw.
As our month of SciArt of the Day winds down, I had to share this image. For me, this is a touchstone of what makes wonderful science-art: marrying metaphors from past and present, science and myth.
The idea that art and science represent two cultures, as C.P. Snow described is a curious one. Art, or more accurately Fine Art , is a relatively recent phenomena. What we study in this history of fine art from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome were not borne from the same impetus of fine art. Most were forms of worship and story-telling. Objects from antiquity we now call art served functions different from the decorative, challenging and growing culture of navel-gazing and mash-ups that post-modernism has become.
From: Louis Figuier, The Ocean World: Being a description of the sea and some of its inhabitants, 1872.
Perusing the stacks in the University of Chicago’s Crerar Library one day, I found this gem of a book – a richly illustrated account of sea creatures from 1872 by a naturalist named Louis Figuier. In it are many delightful woodcuts of hundreds of species of molluscs, crustraceans, echinoderms, and fish, of native divers sponge fishing off the coast of Syria and South Americans using horses to fish for electric eels. And then there are the wonderful accounts of traveling in between. Among the woodcuts is this image of a “giant cuttlefish,” which was the stuff of legends for hundreds of years and was only photographed alive for the first time in 2004. The pdf is available in full from Open Library. It’s a wonderful reminder that for many hundreds of years, the only way to document and share these observations from the natural world was through illustration.
One of the most fascinating aspects of art is that two artists can use the same exact materials and create vastly different works. Last week, I posted an interview with Heather Knight, an artist who creates abstract porcelain tiles inspired by nature’s patterns and textures. Today, I introduce Kate MacDowell, another artist working in unglazed porcelain whose work is also inspired by what she sees in nature. Whereas Knight’s abstractions of nature create a comfortable distance from which we can lose ourselves in the beauty of the repetitive patterns she creates, Kate MacDowell’s sculptures blend the hyper-real with the surreal, pulling us in with exquisite detail and then shocking us with an unexpected and uncomfortable reality. I was initially drawn to interview MacDowell because of the striking anatomical nature of her work; I had not expected to discover her deep regard for the environment and conservation efforts.