Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

Thoughts on Art and Science

Some interesting parallels came to light as we get ready for the next installment of “The Commonwealth” this Thursday with artist Adelaide Paul.  The lecture is entitled “Artist as Scientist, Scientist as Artist?”, and we thought we would share some food for thought with you in preparation.

As a preface, we’ll let Ms. Paul introduce the topic; “Artists and Scientists have more in common than many people may realize. Both are observers, problem solvers, inventors, mechanics, and if they are any good at what they do, they are above all creative thinkers.”

In speaking earlier this week on this topic with Ms. Paul, the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci came up.  Da Vinci was the quintessential Artist/scientist/engineer/anatomist, having incorporated many parts of scientific practices into his art and inventions.  He created paintings, sculptures, plans for a flying machine that actually works, and a model of the human heart that suggests a 20th century understanding of the cardiovascular system.  This realization is particularly timely to us here in Philadelphia with the current exhibit about Da Vinci’s work at The Franklin Institute.  In a quick glance over some of the featured models in the exhibit, one immediately sees interesting, atypical word pairings for his inventions.  Words like “Aerial Screw” and “Harpsichord-viola” create visions of complex structures that combine two very different ideas into one, flawless design.  Makes us wonder, is The Franklin Institute a science museum or an art/design museum.  We think you could make the case for either as artists, designers and scientists alike played large roles in most every permanent and travelling exhibition seen at the Franklin.



Sketch of the "Aerial Screw", predecessor to the helicopter

So getting off this tangent of other museums, where has the merging of science and art taken us since the time of Da Vinci?  Adelaide Paul will try to answer this question by looking at artists who work around the study of the natural sciences.  Artists like Walton Ford took the traditional technical approach of John James Audubon in creating life-like paintings of animals, but staged them in non-traditional scenes to make social commentaries on topics like colonialism and humanity’s effect on the environment. Thus the social commentary aspect places Ford in a realm with artists rather than scientist.


Walton Ford's tryptich "Le Jardin"

Now, jumping forward several decades, we can look at another “artist” (or maybe anatomist is more appropriate) interested in creating life-like sculptures through completely scientific means.  Gunther von Hagens, the brains behind the wildly popular “Body Worlds” exhibit (also recently shown at The Franklin), invented the process of “plastination”, which turns biological tissue into hard plastic.  Because all the sculptures shown in the exhibition were once real people, the initial analysis of the exhibit would come from a scientific perspective, not one of fine art.  But, had von Hagens used traditional craft materials like ceramic to create his anatomical sculptures, would such beautiful craftsmanship land his work in a major art collection or again in a science museum??

Detail of "model" for the Body Worlds exhibit

I think we’ve properly introduced the topic of science vs. art.  Now we turn our attention to Ms. Paul this Thursday to guide us the rest of the way through this blurry, yet fascinating field.  Here is the rest of the information on “The Commonwealth”.

Thursday, April 14th – 7:00 PM
Speaker: Adelaide Paul
Topic: Artist as Scientist, Scientist as Artist?

Admission $5
PAA Members and Students (w/ID) FREE

Buy Tickets Online, Click Here!

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