Science Online 2010: Art & Science intro

At the upcoming ScienceOnline2010 in January, I will be on hand again to lead a session discussing art & science, this time working alongside Felice Frankel. I thought I would do as last year, and put up some of the things I'm thinking about for this year's session in advance, so whether or not you will be attending, you can take part in this discussion. I don't presume to speak for Felice here, although after a wonderful phone call a few weeks ago, I think it's safe to say we'll be leading the discussion and not heatedly debating.

To follow this series of posts, click the "scio10art" label below.
(I will also be doing a workshop about digital painting with a tablet - for more on that, look for posts labelled with "scio10tablet".)

Let's get started.

From the wiki, "
How has our vocabulary of metaphors changed in the wake of scientific inquiry and visualization? This year, let’s take a trip through metaphors in science-based art and discuss how visual representations can enhance understanding, inspire wonder in science and the tension along the Accuracy-Artistic Divide."

Last year we discussed art, science, the two cultures, and I identified what I feel are various types of science-art. I also fretted about art being parasitic on scientific discovery, and could only identify a few instances where art propelled research.

This year, I'd like to focus on artistic metaphors in science imagery.


From The Free Dictionary, metaphors are: "
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison...One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol...."

Visual metaphors are just that, symbols of one thing representing another, making a comparison, usually of their similarities. They have a rich history in art. The following example isn't necessarily related to science-images, but I feel it will be instructive about typical metaphor in fine art painting. This is one of my favourite paintings, alternatively known as Art or The Sphinx or The Caresses, by Fernand Khnopff, a Belgian Symbolist who painted this in 1896. To use this as one representative example, we see here a variety of metaphors. The artist is cheek to cheek with his muse, a rather androgynous, perhaps feminine version of himself (Khnopff favoured strong jawlines on the women he painted). They are alone in a landscape, alone with their thoughts, and seem to be communing. The artist gazes outward at the world, and the muse has closed eyes and a Mona Lisa-inspired smile, a typical Symbolist expression denoting "looking inward at the soul". The exotic cheetah stripes on the Sphinx also shows the wildness of the artist's thoughts.

Most of the metaphors I have just described were likely intended by Khnopff. In our contemporary view, one criticism we may employ is that many of the Symbolists portrayed the men as hero-poets in thrall to not-quite-human women, portraying their anxiety at turn of the century European culture.

It's one example, but The Sphinx begins to show us how many visual metaphors can be packed into a simple painting with two figures.

Next post: an overview of science art & imagery, categorizing them by type of metaphor.



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Artwork Mondays: Revamping the Past

The poll is closed, and so I will be posting artwork now every Monday. (And for the couple of people who voted for bunnies, over the next few weeks, I'll have something special for you. Wink, wink!)

The artwork I post on Mondays will likely be a mix of sketches, past artwork revisited, and new works-in-progress. Time can lend new dimensions to pieces, and this is something worth discussing as well. Perhaps we can do a critique now and again, where I step aside for some initial comments from you, the viewers.

To start the artsy Mondays off, I thought I'd revamp an older drawing. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share some updates on this piece of art. Here's the original drawing, a detail from my 1997 drawing, Lord Extinction Yawns:
I've tinted it blue here, but it's actually plain ol' graphite of the HB persuasion.

Back in 1997, I was in University studying Fine Art and was drawn more and more to the fin-de-siecle, The Symbolist period of the 1890's. To give an idea of that period to people unfamiliar with it (but by no means a thorough explanation), the Symbolists were the artists still in love with the past. While the Impressionists made great strides in optics and colour, innovating new ways to paint, the Symbolists clung to classical and Renaissance ideals. Symbolist work was often very realistic, and illustrated incidents from classical Greek and Roman mythology and Biblical stories. A general feeling was the the Symbolists were afraid of the end of their century, and of the dawning Industrialism heading into the last century of the millennium.

Their fear of the future was not what fascinated me, although I often wondered if all the "x-treme" sports in the late 1990's were tied to a similar feeling of being afraid of tomorrow. In particular all the peculiar beasts such as the Sphinx-Muse in Fernand Khnopff's brilliant The Caress fascinated me. Here were images from the old myths, newly informed by realistic illustrations of cheetahs, anemones, and New World parrots. Part-human, part-other creatures have drawn the eye since artists first started synthesizing the beasts.

Post-university, I still find a major portion of my work influenced by depicting part-humans with something earlier from Earth's biodiversity-parade. Why not the Permian? The Cambrian? How will we see ourselves anew, in the light of beasts we have no historical symbols invested into?

The woman above is a Sphinx, but not part-human, part-lion. At the time I modelled her after a dimetrodon instead of a lion. An apex predator fittingly older than the Sphinx itself.

And so I thought I'd see where I am, just over ten years' removed from that drawing. Here is a preliminary sketch of the new drawing I will produce in my spare time over the next few Artwork Mondays:

Hmm. This pose is a little too side-on, although I'm fond of the shoulder. Perhaps I'll have our Dimetrodon-Sphinx looking over her shoulder at us. Dark and predatory.

This sketch is out of my head, with a look at a photo to get the back and shoulder right. To begin, I'll use some photo reference, a model, and my trusty .3mm mechanical pencil. Trusty being a relative term; I love the .3mm, but it always jams like a reluctant hyperdrive when I need it for the delicate stuff.

I'm not sure where this piece will lead. Painting? Coloured-drawing? Love the concept, dislike the execution? Hate it and find it derivative? Please voice your opinion, throw tomatoes or inflate my ego by leaving comments. And thank you once again for those who voted in the poll.

Welcome to The Flying Trilobite's Artwork Mondays!
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