The Union of Art and Science

Castles, oil on canvas

Leonardo Da Vinci is likely the first and unquestionably the most famous artist to seriously study science and bring what he learned to his art. Leonardo had more than a passing interest in science as his inventions prove, but which came first, science or art? Experts on Da Vinci can probably answer that but what the average art lover can see is his masterful use of perspective in one of his most famous works, The Last Supper. Most other well known artists of The Renaissance brought science into their art too by means of perspective, foreshortening and other techniques.

Cypress Trees, pencil on paper

Science made a comeback in the 20th Century in Cubism with Picasso, Braque and others, according to Jonah Lehrer. (I wrote about Lehrer’s arguments Here.) However, another argument can be made that science never left art, it just moved into different realms. Science is evident in Vermeer’s use of the Camera Obscura and the evolution of that tool that are still in use to this day. The science of paint color invention moved from earth materials to the chemistry lab in the 19th century. Scientific illustration in the 18th and 19th century was vital before photography took over. And the list goes on.

Albert Einstein is not known as an artist but he was quite a prolific one. He considered art one important source for his inspiration in science. Thomas Edison made numerous sketches of his inventions and even botanical drawings and sketches. Though Leonardo Da Vinci remains most famous as an artist, take the time to check out his scientific illustrations in his sketchbooks. These three known geniuses used both art and science in their works. Hmmm…

Reelfoot-Late Summer, oil on canvas

While you are contemplating the importance of the union of art and science, take a look at the writings of the late Professor Emeritus of Art Education at Stanford University, Dr. Eliot Eisner. Dr. Eisner was a pioneer in his belief that the arts are a valuable tool to teach all other subjects. Not a fan of standardized testing, Dr. Eisner believed arts were another means of expression of knowledge that is missed in written testing. Check out Dr. Eisner’s book, “The Arts and the Creation of the Mind,” for more on how art can teach science, especially with children.

In my art, I switch back and forth between botanical-style illustration and an impressionist style of oil painting. Even though my oil paintings are a loose form of Impressionist style, the botanical-style nature drawing trains my eye to see details in form and color. Every time I draw a flower, I see some nuance I haven’t noticed before that I can take back to oil painting.

One of the most important ideas Dr. Eisner taught was that art is from the heart while science is from the brain. We all know what happens when the heart and brain are separated. Not a pretty picture!

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