Monday, 13 July 2009

Art Monday: science vocabulary = better art

Today in keeping with the general discussion of evolution culture (see Goldstein's article) and evopunk (see badass Renaissance Oaf) I thought I would re-post a piece I originally wrote for Alternate Reality Existence back in May.

(The painting Symbiosis was at one time, my personal benchmark as a painting so I threw it in there.)

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An Increase In Our Allegorical Vocabulary


Realism in painting has a long history, from the linear narratives of the ancient world to the shattered realities of the Twentieth Century. For the lay-gallery-goer, the artwork of the Renaissance Masters, Symbolists, and the Surrealists captures the viewer's gaze through the feat of technical ability. Immediately recognizable figures surrounded by unfamiliar objects help the viewer to enter the unusual world by connecting through the shared human experience.


In my own painting, this is the sort of challenge I place in front of myself. The recognizable objects are the hook: the less-familiar organisms are the mystery that invites people to look further. Science, paleontology and biology have always figured into my work. The natural world is full of a staggering variety of forms to challenge a representational artist.


About a dozen years ago, I had a gallery show that encouraged me to pursue this path with renewed vigor. This oil painting, entitled Symbiosis, was garnering a fair bit of attention from friends and visitors attending the show's opening. A coffee-shop colleague and zoology-major stopped me and asked, "Ok -if this makes no sense to you, forget it- but is that a tardigrade?" I smiled and replied that it was, and she grinned, "Oh I could tell. They have those distinctive hooked feet!"

That was inspiring. Art for scientists who get it. Symbiosis, about the microbes in our ecosystem and in our guts. In these scientifically exciting times, why not stretch the public perception and appeal to everyone's curiosity? Why not delight scientists in their myriad disciplines?


When Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion debuted, I was excited, having enjoyed his previous books. In it, he held a challenge for every artist. If you are interested in science -atheist, agnostic, Bright, or not- take the time to consider this artistic call-to-arms:


"If history had worked out differently, and Michelangelo had been commissioned to paint a ceiling for a giant Museum of Science, mightn't he have produced something at least as inspirational as as the Sistine Chapel? How sad that we shall never hear Beethoven's Mesozoic Symphony, or Mozart's opera The Expanding Universe."
(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p 86-87)

Will we see a scientifically-inspired artistic genius of that stature this century? It is my sincere hope that we we will. The world deserves to be that inspired, and to experience the wonder scientists engage in our universe.


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
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3 comments:

Sean Craven said...

It's funny -- in genre science fiction there's a distinct gap between the literati and the hard SF types. When you run across a story like Judith Moffett's Tiny Tango in which hard science, social relevance, and wonderful writing all collide it's a genuine revelation.

I hope to do some work of this kind in the future -- still honing my chops, but that's one of my life goals.

My visual art, on the other hand, owes everything to natural history, especially paleontology.

Eric Orchard said...

Really interesting Glendon! great article!

Glendon Mellow said...

Sean - It'd be a tough trick to pull off, combining skilled paleo art with social relevance and not making a science propaganda poster. There's a depth to writing it can be hard to attain visually.

Eric - Thanks!

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