Thursday, September 30, 2010

Science and Art

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is perhaps the artist most identified with science. The drawing above by Leonardo demonstrates his interest in proportion. Proportional study was critical to science during Leonardo's lifetime because a standard system of measurement did not exist. Systems of measurements often varied from city to city (See Fritjof Capra's excellent book The Science of Leonardo page 169).

Since the renaissance, technology has more often than not allowed artists and scientists to drift apart. There is still the need to illustrate, graph, and describe science with traditional artists tools. However, In the nineteenth and twentieth century a dramatic increase in scientific invention and information has ushered in an age of specialization where scientific understanding is no longer dependent on the artist's power to observe and record. Electron microscopes, x-rays, and cameras small enough to be inserted in the body are now allowing scientists, engineers, and doctors to see in enhanced ways.

Although most artists are not deeply engaged in science and most scientists don't have time to become full time artists, the two fields of study share many common aspects. For instance, both disciplines are likely to begin with studies or tests, comparison is key to both scientific and artistic analysis, perspective and observation remain critical, and finally imagination and creative thinking is essential to scientific and artistic development.

Art involves a study of life as it relates to the senses and intellect. So, we should see some connections between art and the techniques used for investigating our universe (scientific method). Art remains capable of presenting scientific findings in unique ways. Art can also provide a humanistic context for science that is capable of critiquing mankind's use of science.

Below are examples of art that describe, critique, and presents science in a variety of ways. What is art and what is science can often be hard to separate. Notably, my initial inspiration for this post was a contest and exhibit titled The Art of Science that students at Princeton University take part in annually. The contest challenges students, who study a range of subjects, to consider science as art and art as science.

National public Radio had a series called "Where Science Meets Art" and one example from this series involves science told through comics. The artwork above is by Leland Purvis and Jay Hosler.

GFP Bunny is a genetically engineered rabbit by Eduardo Kac (born 1962).

Based on study by Niccolo Fontana Tartaglia (1499/1500 - 1557) this illustration exhibits the relationship between geometric analysis, physics, and canon fire.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) said "Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe." This image is from Galileo's Dialogues.

Dorothea Rockburne's (born 1932) work has also been inspired by a study of geometry. Above is her work: Pascal’s Provincial Letters, Oil on gessoed linen , Size 67" x 67" x 8", Date 1987.

Here are links to other serious artists inspired by science: Beauvais Lyons, Beverly Fishman, Vija Clemins also on Art 21, Walter De Maria, and Damien Hirst. (I hope to add more soon)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Relief Prints

Lyonel Feininger (German/American 1871-1956), Volcano, 1918

This fall I am teaching
relief printing as part of an introductory printmaking course. During the first class, I introduced examples of relief prints from art history. Many of these images are included in this post. After this presentation/lecture, students began to work on preparatory drawings that would lead them toward their own print. Although this stage of design can't be seen in the prints shown here, during this sketch stage the aesthetic treatment of one's subject and its compositional layout can be considered and revised. Once a plan is made, the design is render on the surface of the carving block (usually linoleum or wood). When the drawing is in place then the remainder of the work revolves around carving and printing. Surprises can arise while carving, and adjustments can be made after a proof is printed. However, it is the initial planning which I believe to be the most critical to the success of this kind of print (one that relies on describing form).

The prints included in this post are related to German Expressionist prints and prints made in Mexico during the first half of the 20th century. When discussing these prints with the students, I asked them to notice how the negative space (the space around the main subject or subjects) can contribute to the organization of a picture. If the shapes that the negative spaces make are complex then this can lead to a more active image. Although a larger amount of white or black around a figure or subject can lead to a dramatic presentation, rarely is the background (or negative space) all white or all black in these examples. Here marks are often used to activate spaces that can be undervalued to the passive viewer. In other words, the type of mark made according to its width, length, and direction is integral and an important subject unto itself.

Francisco Dosamantes (Mexican 1911-1986), Scandal, 1945

Carving does not allow for shading but value differences can be created optically by the proximity of marks. The smaller and farther apart marks are the lighter a picture will appear. In other words, the more one carves the lighter the image will be when printed because there will be less raised surface area for the ink roller to make contact with. However, exceptions will occur when the printing method involves explicitly over inking the matrix or that the carved marks remain too shallow and collect ink.

Below are examples with notes and links. Some of the artists are less known and I am pleased to include them here because they made important contributions to the larger milieu of their time and culture.

Karl Jakob Hirsch (German 1892-1952), Self Portrait, 1915

Franz M. Jansen (German 1885-1958), 8 O'clock, 1920

Käthe Kollwitz (German 1867-1945), The Widow II, 1923

Isabel Villaseñor (Mexican 1909-1953) Self Portrait, 1929

I could not find a lot of information about Villaseñor. She was a poet and artist who also appears as a model in many well regarded photographs.

Tamiji Kitagawa (Japanese, 1894-1989) Extracting Sap from a Maguey Plant, 1930

Tamiji Kitagawa was born in Japan but came to live in Mexico.