By Terry Poulos, Scientiquity founder (originally published 11/22/2019)
Last week we addressed how visual ‘art’ was the alpha of human evolution, with gestures preceding the spoken word as the primary mode of communication. In this way, ‘art’ was the initial driver of complexity of intelligence. Throughout time, visual art and science have been complementary, feeding off one another and co-mutating.
A common refrain among academics is that Euclid’s “Elements” is the most successful, influential textbook ever written. Its compilation of fundamental axioms of pure Number Theory and linear geometry are still taught in nearly every elementary school classroom across the entire developed world, nearly unedited. Elements was the alpha of advanced mathematics. It has been estimated that after the Bible, Elements is the second most distributed literature in the history of publishing. That’s one influential book! And its geometry has informed nearly every artist from Classical times through the present. It’s math has also informed the sciences quite well, all the way through modern quantum particle models. “Elements” as geom-ART-ry
But is Elements one of the most `beautiful’ and ‘influential‘ works of art ever created? Answering a question with a question, is geometry not art? Equally as relevant, is art not geometry? Science owes much to the visual arts, and art owes much to science. Each serves the other.
“If every true art is always contemporary and every contemporary art has its origins in antiquity and every artist becomes a scientist and a scientist an artist, therefore art is a real proof of infinity,” opined artist Gosia Koscielak Krolikowska, also atelier at Gosia Koscielak Studio & Gallery in Wilmette, Illinois. “Digital Creek” by Gosia Koscielak. Digital projective art
Disclaimer: Scientiquity (“the art and science of antiquity”) is grossly biased on this topic. But that alone doesn’t impair proper perspective. Art serving science is backed by more than a few artists, mathematicians and scientists. But Euclid alongside Rembrandt? Granted, that’s a tough sell. Personally, I’ve got Euclid miles ahead of the oft cartoonish Matisse, but that’s just me.
What we can state with certainty is that the teachings of Elements were highly influential with the majority of artists throughout history, most notable being Leonardo da Vinci and M.C. Escher. Elements informs of perception, dimension, composition and structure. Whether it be realism, impressionism, geometric or most any genre of art, only the most radically abstract artist gets a pass from Euclid’s classroom.
As for beauty, that depends on how one defines art. If by art we mean visual representation of any kind – whether it be a Picasso sculpture or Pollack fractals, or the Golden Ratio in architecture – then Euclid is indeed in the pantheon of all those who’ve painted nature’s truths. We could go on but in the end it’s perhaps a matter of semantics, our choice of nomenclature. You say geometry, I say geom-ART-ry. In any event, we know for sure art has benefited greatly by science and mathematics.
“The Camera Obscura was an invention that changed art forever,” notes Euripedes “Rip” Kastaris, a St. Louis-based painter/sculptor who works with traditional and digital media and has been an official poster artist for the International Olympic Committee. He’s also been commissioned to paint major public works projects. “Camera Obscura was a projection device with a lens that Vermeer used to produce art that was more photo realistic than anything previously. The lens can be focused to project an image onto the back of a canvas. Artists could then trace the image. It was a genuine game-changer that would forever make art look more realistic than it ever had. Camera Obscura would shift art we recognize as Byzantine or Medieval to what we now see as realistic.”
The myriad color pigments used in art were fused by alchemists (forerunners of scientists) throughout the ages, and later built upon by modern scientists. One particular innovation that forever altered the course of art is oil-based paint, a paradigm shift for its slow drying property and the ability to blend color and glaze.
“Oil paint can create more subtlety and you’re much better able to glaze using a small amount of pigment diluted in medium,” continued Kastaris. “Glazes can be put on, layer after layer, so rich pearlescent finishes can be achieved.
“Michelangelo’s works in the Sistine Chapel were cleaned and a lot of people believe it was cleaned too thoroughly,” added Kastaris. “The theory was he intentionally over-intensified his colors so they were too bright, cartoon almost, and then he would finish the painting by putting a glaze of dark smokey color, rubbed over it and selectively removed, to adjust the final vibrancy of the work. Some scholars say that they cleaned the grime off but mistakenly took the layer of glaze off as well, revealing the currently over-intensified results that were not the final intent of the artist.”
The grand-masters all had one quality in common; maniacal devotion to detail. Leonardo spent the last 14 years of his life painting the Mona Lisa and didn’t even finish! This was common for Leonardo, who was never satisfied with any of his art. It’s what made him who he was, the greatest hybrid painter/inventor/scientist/mathematician in history. He studied the science of optics and light to an extreme, dissecting upwards of 200 or more cadavers to examine up-close the intricate bone, muscle, tendon, orbital and vascular structure of human and animal anatomy.
Many go so far as to assert that Mona Lisa’s eyes follow you as you go from side-to-side, a credit to Leonardo’s master craftsmanship and scientific obsession. Kastaris clarified the latter notion.
“If the eyes in a painting are looking straight out at the viewer,” Kastaris insisted, “they will follow the viewer wherever they go. It’s a universal phenomenon of any painting. If you move, you will perceive this as the eyes following you, but it’s an optical illusion and has little to do with da Vinci having some special quality about his approach, although his skills may have enhanced the effect.”
While da Vinci revolutionized the Renaissance approach with his “smufato” blurred edges, which captured the essence of the real world, in modern times LED technology (Light Emitting Diodes) has been further evolving art. LED bulbs don’t heat up like traditional bulbs and last far longer, up to five years or more. It enabled Scientiquity to create “Hydromeda Atlantis,” a world-first new genre of art called “Hydro-Refractive Kinetic Light Sculpture.” Video is another on the current cutting edge.
“Today anyone can, for a small investment in gimbal stabilizers, mirrorless cameras and high quality lenses, make movies that look as good as what was done in Hollywood in the golden age of cinema,” related Kastaris. “The tech has given artists a chance to make moving pictures for the same price as painting a canvas. Add an aerial drone to that recording set up and you can do magic. You can currently buy a high end drone with a 4k camera for about $1000 that’s better than broadcast quality and has four times the resolution as standard hi-definition.”
And so it is that art and science come full circle, cycling back and forth in an eternal feedback/feed-forward periodic pattern, scaling off one another and co-mutating, pushing each to greater heights of complexity and inching us toward that fractional geometric series called “infinity in the limit.”
Terry Poulos is a Chicago-area writer, archaeological historian, artist and geometer whose investigations focus primarily on physics, fractal topology, and Number Theory
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