Have Art and Science Been Inseparable Throughout the History of Civilization?

March 31, 2016

Art and science. A tale as old as time. How connected are they? How long have they been inseparable? And finally, what do they really have in common? The relationship between these two seemingly polar opposites dates back to the very dawn of civilization. Ever since the humankind discovered fire and learned how to utilize it, this early scientific breakthrough has influenced prehistoric art in more ways than one. Fire provided light, light provided the possibility of drawing inside the caves. These drawings have influenced the early art, which later influenced the ancient masters, and so on and so forth. In ancient Greece, Eratosthenes of Cyrene, a mathematician, astronomer, and geographer, was also known as a poet and music theorist. Aristotle, the famous philosopher has defined art as the realization in the external form of a true idea, the sources of which are the natural love of imitation, characteristic of humans, and the pleasure humans feel in recognizing likeness. He has postulated that art is not just mere copying, it seeks to seize the universal type in the individual occurrence.

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Pantheon via expedia.com

The Ancient Societies

Skipping back to ancient Egypt, the pyramids are probably one of the best examples of the intertwining relationship between art and science. Built as the tombs for Pharaohs, and apart from them being the obvious examples of creativity and science working together, the pyramids hid the sarcophagi, the vessels for corpses. These antiquities were made with so much care, so much precision, and with such regard to our main stars today, art and science. The careful layout of the designs, the color schemes, the decorative ornaments and iconography of religious symbols, mixed with the impeccable precision of applied scientific methods of the time, such as that of mummification, makes these coffins one of the prime examples of the inseparability of scientific research and the artistic expression. Another wonderful example is the hieroglyphs, astounding works of art that were used as a means of writing down ideas, calculations, and so on.

Fast forward to ancient Rome and its glorious Pantheon, and the fact that it still stands even though it was built in the 2nd century AD. Made out of concrete, without the reinforcement of steel, it is proudly occupying Piazza della Rotonda, despite the earthquakes, weather, Barbarian invasions, and the mere fact that Mother Nature has no mercy towards the man-made constructions. Scientists have been perplexed for many years, trying to figure out the secret of its longevity, and the new study has shown that the ingredient of Roman concrete was the blend of volcanic ash and limestone used in the mortar. The special durable mineral called strätlingite was discovered in the analyses, and the crystals formed in the process of mixing helped prevent microscopic cracks from spreading, proving the evidence of the inseparable bond between scientists and artists of the time.

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Da Vinci's aerial screw. © Claudio Divizia Hemera Thinkstock by Getty Images via theconversation.com

Leonardo da Vinci and Other Great Masters

One cannot talk about art and science without mentioning the great Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian polymath who was the depiction of the blend between the two terms. He was an inventor, interested in painting, sculpture, music, architecture, science, mathematics, literature, anatomy, astronomy, geology, cartography, and engineering, among others. He is the inventor of the parachute, tank, and the helicopter, he is one of the greatest painters of all time, he was a true Renaissance Man, the universal genius, the man of superhuman intelligence and creativity. His approach to science was an artistic one; his approach to art was a scientific one. He believed that perception is the origin of all knowledge, he was the first one to combine the artistic point of view to study the details of his scientific findings. His research in the fields of aerodynamics and mathematics, found in his many sketches and journals, carry great artistic value and have inspired generation upon generation of both artists and scientists.

Many centuries later, Pablo Picasso followed in Da Vinci’s footsteps and combined artistic and scientific elements into his works. He has developed a special technique that was based on lines and shapes, on the dislocation of geometric figures, and the rejection of smoothness and the refinements of art subjects. Picasso’s Guernica is a two-dimensional work of art that presents the basis of science – the simple geometric shapes, fragmented, disfigured, and disarranged in an abstract fashion.

The beginning of the 20th century brought the new medium of “moving pictures”, widely popularized in the works of Walt Disney in a, now iconic, Steamboat Willie, one of the first animated sound films ever made. The link between art and science is in the background of this groundbreaking cartoon, as the combination of synchronized sound effects and music required a great amount of scientific research. The whole cinematic art is actually a careful blend of artistic creation and science, owing its success to technology and the creative minds of filmmakers.

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Michael Najjar - liquid gravity, 2013, ©Michael Najjar/Courtesy of Benrubi Gallery, NYC

21st Century – The Unbreakable Bond Between Art and Science

Nowadays, there is no question of whether art and science really do work together. Almost everywhere we turn we can see the examples of this relationship they have been sharing for centuries. Today, NASA offers a collection of photographs taken in space completely royalty-free! Anyone can download these images and use them in their artistic creations. The breathtaking images now occupy the canvases, prints, clothing items, logos, monitor displays, computer-created art, and many, many others. The sheer fact that the science has progressed so much that we can now own real images of the universe says a lot about the advancement of humankind and the inextricable bond between artistry and technology. Now, we even have a whole movement of space art, dedicated to the astonishingly vast cosmos that has inspired people over the centuries, millennia, eons. One of the artists dealing with space themes in his works is Michael Najjar, a German visual artist who investigates the ideas of space travel in his visually stunning work.

Another fantastic invention that linked these two spheres even further is the invention of 3D printers. In 3D printing, the layers of material are formed to create an object, under computer control. 3D printing technology, used by artists such as Rob and Nick Carter, who have created a replica of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and a Romanian-born artist Ioan Florea, who has used printed plastic molds to shape liquid nano-metals into sculptures of massive size. Even street artists have opted to use 3D printers to deliver their message into the streets. One of them is a designer Ji Lee, a creator of a street art project featuring 10,000 small-scale bunny statues placed in random spots all over the world. The series titled Mysterabbit has seen the light of day, everywhere from South Korea to Iceland to the US. You can even download the blueprints for the bunny figures and make Mysterabbits of your own!

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LIX Pen art via thisiscolossal.com

What Does the Future Bring for the Relationship Between Art and Science?

So, what’s in store for this intriguing relationship? Well, if science continues to progress at this rate, there is no telling what lies ahead. Maybe we will get the opportunity to create amazing artworks in space, or maybe we will use materials obtained from other planets and satellites. Maybe, we will create photographs of such quality that they will be able to depict the inside of the human body or something more than meets the eye. Perhaps, the holograms will be so perfected, we won’t be able to tell the difference between them and real people anymore. Nobody can tell. In the meantime, while waiting for the next art and science breakthrough, you can have fun and create masterpieces with the fantastic invention that will probably be to our children what the floppy disks are for us now, the handheld 3D printer, LIX 3D Printing Pen. The future is here and the future is now, so we might as well enjoy all the commodities of it.

Editor’s Tip: Arthur I. Miller - Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science Is Redefining Contemporary Art

If you are interested in the topic of the relationship between art and science, and want to learn more, we recommend this book. In the recent decades, a new art movement has come to light in which artists make use of and throw light on the latest advances in science. Some of these artworks can be seen in museums and galleries, while others have found their creators in the designers working at Pixar, Google’s Creative Lab, and the MIT Media Lab. In this book, Arthur Miller takes the reader through this inspiring new frontier of art and science, and traces the movement back to its inception – to the time when Einstein’s theory of relativity influenced the thinking of the Cubists. Through the interviews with these thinkers and artists, Miller shows how the discoveries in biotechnology, cosmology, quantum physics, and others, have inspired the works of musicians like David Toop, designers like Neri Oxman, and the artists-in-residence at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

All images are for illustrative purposes.
Featured image: Orion Nebula, M42, NGC 1976, credit NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team, via hubblesite.org