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Art and Science; an Unfathomed Tie

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It is quite unusual if not totally dismissible for the common viewer of a work of art to associate the maker of the artwork he/she is gazing at with any branch of science. However, the close relation between the production of works of art and all strands of science and nature could be tighter than many of us could imagine.

Ever since the beginning of times in Ancient Egypt, artists have resolved to the study of the nature of stones, minerals, wood ,etc., becoming masters in manipulating materials of nature to attain the highest artistic levels that can be obtained out of each material.

Moreover they observed natural phenomena, becoming accomplished astronomers, geometers and architects. Thus, they could position huge complexes of temples in alignment to celestial constellations and introduce orifices in buildings to allow the penetration of sunlight to light up the portrait of the king in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple to the amazing exactitude of a certain day of the year at a specific hour.

Even now, it is difficult to bring art and science in one sentence and not finding Leonardo Da Vinci popping immediately in one’s mind. Indeed, Da Vinci, artist, engineer, and scientist had these disciplines and more melted in his persona as evidenced by his vast legacy of drawings and codices.

He built on the efforts of his predecessors who used the scientific laws of geometry and perspective in painting to claim painting as a science per se. He even went further on: “…he believed that the painter, doubly endowed with subtle powers of perception and the complete ability to pictorialize them, was the person best qualified to achieve true knowledge, as he could closely observe and then carefully reproduce the world around him [..]. In formulating his own principle of graphic representations—which he called ‘dimostrazione’ (“demonstrations”)—Leonardo’s work was a precursor of modern scientific illustration.” (Britannica)1

Moving on to a more recent timeline, based on the scientific grounds of the laws of Optics, the discovery photography was “so important that artists from then onwards could never again paint as they had done before”2

“The development of photography by the late 1800s further accelerated the speed of production. It was only a matter of time and technology before film, the next step in the progression toward more exact representation in man’s communications, evolved to its maturity.

What are the effects and significance of these new art forms? [Walter] Benjamin understood and lauded the potential democratization of the communications media and the arts implicit in advances in mechanical reproduction. A work of art that once could only be seen by the wealthy in a museum or gallery could be reproduced at little cost and made accessible to many more people.

The advent of inexpensive illustrated newspapers meant that current events had become the business of the masses. Film allows an event or a performance to be recorded and be available for countless audiences to see. Mechanical reproduction makes possible the involvement of the masses in culture and politics; it makes possible mass culture and mass politics.”3

This was just a hint about the tight connection between art and science. In future issues, we shall be tackling specific cases where we would explore this close connection even closer.

*Published in SCIplanet printed magazine, Winter 2014 Issue.

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