The Science of Art
Art can be defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. When it comes to art, imagination and skills are key words. The application or expression can be done visually in the form of a painting or a sculpture that has charismatic ability to get people attracted through its beauty or emotional power. The visual arts are the various branches of creative activities, such as painting, music, literature, and dance. Whereas, Science from Latin “scientia” meaning “knowledge” is based upon observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. Art and Science are generally viewed as two distinct disciplines and totally unrelated to each other. Art is often seen as creative, intuitive, expressive, sensual, experiential, and motional; Science, as methodical, logical, explicative, intellectual, cognitive, and rational. As per Edward O Wilson, “Science explains feeling, while Art transmits it”. But even more fundamentally, “the common property of Science and Art is the transmission of information…and…the respective modes of transmission in Science and Art can be made logically equivalent”.
In fact, Science has always impacted Art and to establish the closer association in between these two disciplines, we need to look into the historical evolution of Art up to its contemporary phase, of the world in general and India in particular.
Science and Evolution of Art
The era of Cave painting/ Parietal art/ Prehistoric Art
Cave or rock paintings are paintings painted on cave or rock walls and ceilings, usually dating to prehistoric times. Rock paintings have been made since the Upper Palaeolithic, 40,000 years ago. They have been found in Europe, Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia. The most common themes in European cave paintings are large wild animals, such as bison, horses, aurochs, and deer, and tracings of human hands (which was said to be the signature of the artist who painted it) as well as abstract patterns. The paintings were made with the natural mineral pigment ochre – probably ironstone haematite – which the hunter-gatherers ground to a powder and mixed with water or other liquids to create paint.
Our species are being distinguished from other animals because of Art and the ability to think of abstract concepts – capabilities that also led us to use fire, develop the wheel and come up with the other scientific technologies that have made our kind so successful. After this comes a transitional phase called the Mesolithic period (sometimes known as Epipaleolithic), ending with the spread of agriculture, followed by the Neolithic period (the New Stone Age) which witnessed the establishment of permanent settlements. The Stone Age ends as stone tools become super ceded by the new products of bronze and iron metallurgy, and is followed by the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Ancient Greek Art (500 B.C. – 300 B.C.)
The art of Ancient Greece is divided into four periods: the Geometric, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic. This art is a role model for the evolution of every other art form of the Western world. The art had great impact on architecture and sculpture.
The Ancient Greeks contribution to the scientific world is an acknowledged fact and its impact was greatly felt on the art as well. Greek science had its beginning with mathematics with mathematicians like Archimedes and Pythagoras. Geometry played a pivotal role in the development of Greek Architecture.
Gothic Art (origin France 12th Century – 16th Century)
It is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. The characteristics are the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress and the architecture of many cathedrals, churches, castles, palaces, town halls etc. Again geometry played a great role in creating this style of architecture.
The Art of Renaissance –Humanism
Renaissance is a period from the 14th-17th C., considered the link between the Middle and Modern history. It started as a cultural movement in Italy in the Late Medieval period and later spread to the rest of Europe.
Although the invention of metal movable type sped the dissemination of ideas from the later 15th century, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe. Renaissance artists had contributed greatly to man’s knowledge by the time Galileo was doing his first work at Pisa. The humanist artists of the Italian renaissance had performed their own dissections to promote the study of anatomy, they had invented mathematical perspective to make possible the accurate, realistic portrayal of physical space. The literary humanists had managed to revive all sorts of classics, in particular the works of Plato. Christopher Columbus had directly challenged the limits to the finite European world of Ptolemy’s geography. In short, the bounds of human knowledge were expanding at a rapid rate. Thus it comes as no surprise that Italian artists of Galileo’s day responded favorably, even enthusiastically, to the new discoveries that science itself was making .It is clear that renaissance artists were seeking a new world, thanks in part to mathematics and the new perspective, literally, that mathematics provided. Renaissance artists and architects had already succeeded in translating physical space into the mathematical terms of proportion and perspective to produce works that tricked the eye and rivaled nature.
“Baroque” comes from the Portuguese word “barocco,” which stands for uneven pearl. Baroque art, arising between 1600 and 1750, is characterized by elaborate, strange, colorful and intricate designs. Baroque artists were concerned with filling up spaces.Eminent artists during thisperiod include Rembrandt, Rubens and Bernini. The period between 1600 and 1750 was a time of great scientific achievement as well, with numerous contributions from Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei and other scientists. The many scientific contributions to society had a great impact on Baroque art in many ways.
The emerging science of colour theory played a pivotal role in the development of impressionism.The invention of camera had a great impact on influencing Impressionism Per. Use of a camera helped the artists study movement and gestures in real life conditions by freezing an image in place in order to the Impressionists to fully understand the intricate details of the surroundings. The understanding that colour white is composed of primary colours led artists to mix primary pigments directly on their canvases in order to achieve additive colour effects.. Impressionists painted people in their everyday activities: Eating, Dancing, Holdings Hands, and working; and they were from all walks of life: businessmen; middle-class, working waitresses, carpenters, farmers.
Expressionism (1900 – 1925)
It was a modernist movement initially in poetry and painting originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its distinctive characteristic is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, with distortion for emotional effect. Expressionist artists sought to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality. The term refers to an “artistic style in which emphasis was laid upon expressing subjective emotions rather than objective reality.
The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893), which inspired 20th-century Expressionists
Surrealism (1920 – 1966)
Surrealism stands in favour of reality, truth, and the the natural world, and relies heavily upon empirical data, documentation and objectivity. This taste for documentation and objectivity is often expressed in a pseudoscientific style and pseudoscientific attitudes.
The surrealist art movement was inspired by the science of relativity and quantum.
The art movement emerged in the mid-1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States. Pop art emerged as a challenge to traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular culture such as advertising, news, etc. In pop art, material is sometimes visually removed from its known context, isolated, and/or combined with unrelated material. The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it.
Aspects of mass culture are depicted such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects. It emerged as a reaction to the then-dominant tides of abstract expressionism, and went way beyond them.
Pop art tries bringing art out of scientific images which are invisible to our naked eyes. The use of X-rays, dyes, fancy microscopes and other tools to see things that cannot be captured with our naked eyes .But these tools aren’t just good for science, they can make art. An exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History explores the beauty in scientific imaging. These pictures illustrate the chemical composition of four meteorites, which was detected by scanning them with a beam of electrons. Red represents magnesium, green is calcium, and blue is aluminum.
Street art is visual art created in public locations. The main intent of the street artist is to communicate directly with the masses outside the context of traditional art venues, free from perceived confines of the formal art world. Street artists sometimes present socially relevant issues infused with esthetic value, to attract attention to a cause or as a form of “art provocation”. It’s the magic of creating art in public spaces.
Science and Art in the Indian context
Unlike many other early civilizations, the Indus valley civilization too took no interest in public large scale art.
The most famous piece is the bronze Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro which shows remarkably advanced modeling of the human figure for this early date.
The excavations of the ruins at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (today in Pakistan) proved the existence of a developed urban civilisation in India. The Indus valley civilization is dated around 3000 B.C.The existence of an urban civilization presumes the existence of well-developed techniques of architecture and construction.
The Science of Architecture and Civil Construction was known in Ancient India as Sthapatya-Shastra. The word Sthapatya is derived from the root word Sthapana i.e. ‘to establish’. The technique of architecture was both a science and an art, hence it is also known as Sthapatya-kala, the word Kala means an art.
Sthapati, the professional architects, undertook the construction of palaces, temples and other civil construction from the very early times. Even during the Vedic times, there existed professionals who specialised in the technique of constructing chariots and other heavy instruments of war. These professionals have been referred to in the Rig Veda as Rathakara which literally means ‘chariot maker”.
From about the 7th century B.C., existed large urban civilizations in the Ganges Valley. In architecture also the scientific ideas and techniques have been integrated with philosophy and theology as the majority of the large constructions were temples
In the construction of Hindu temples , was used a technique where the stones could be affixed to one another with the force of gravity. The technique was similar to the one used in the Roman Aquaducts. The exquisite carvings were engraved after the stones had been fixed in their places. Thus the carving of figurines right up to the top of a temples roof must have been a demanding task.
The North Indian Mauryan Empire gave several Stupas from the life of Buddha and the famous Lion Capital of Ashoka.
The Buddhist Art
The major survivals of Buddhist art begin in the period after the Mauryans, from which good quantities of sculpture survives from some key sites such as Sanchi, Bharhut and Amravati. The paintings of Ajanta are famous worldwide.
The Gupta period marked the “golden age” of classical Hinduism, the early architectural style of Hindu temples is considered simple, consisting only of a sanctum and a porch for the worshipper
The Dravidian Art of South India
The early Dravidian architecture, with its monolithic rock relief and sculptures of Hindu Deities. They were succeeded by Chola rulers who were prolific in their technique pursuit of arts. The Chola period is also known for its bronze sculptures, the lost wax casting techniques and Fresco paintings. The Khajuraho group of monuments recognized as UNESCO world heritage site were constructed by the Chandela clan of the Rajput dynasties.
The paintings of this time reflected the vibrancy and inclusion of Akbar’s kingdom, with production of Persian miniatures the Rajput paintings and the Pahari style of Northern India. They also influenced the Company style watercolor paintings created during the British rule many years later.
Meanwhile in South-Central India, during the late 15th C. after the Middle kingdoms. The Bahmani sultanate disintegrated into the Deccan Sultanates centered at Bijapur, Golconda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar.The rulers developed unique techniques of metal casting, stone carving, and painting, as well as a distinctive architectural style with the addition of citadels and tombs.
British period (1757–1947)
British colonial rule had a great impact on Indian art with the establishment of schools of art in major cities, e.g. the Bombay Art Society in 1888. The East India Company style of paintings became common, created by Indian artists. The style was mainly Romanticized with watercolour.In the year 1858 the British government took over the task of administration of India under the British Raj. The fusion of Indian traditions with European style at this time
is evident from Raja Ravi Varma’s oil paintings of sari -clad women in a graceful manner.
Swadeshi Movement and its impact on Indian Art – an era of change
In the year 1905, Swadeshi Movement started gaining momentum. An attempt to revive the cultural identities suppressed by the British, rejecting the Romanticized style of the Company paintings, led to the creation of Bengal School of Art with an emphasis on Indian nationalism.
Abanindranath Tagore has been referred to as the father of Modern Indian art.Other artists of the Tagore family such as Rabindranath Tagore ,Gajanendranath Tagore as well as new artists of the early 20th century such as Amrita Sher Gill were responsible for introducing western styles into Indian Art. In 1944.K.C.S. Panicker founded the Progressive Painters’ Association (PPA) thus giving rise to the “Madras movement” in art.
(A rare self portrait of Amrita Shergil painted in 1933 was sold at USD 2.92 million at New York auction on 18th March, 2015)
In 1947,with Indian independence, a group of six artists – K.H.Ara, S.K.Bakre, H.A.Gade, M.F.Hussain, S.H.Raza and Francis Newton Souza- founded in 1952 ,the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group to establish new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era. Though the group was dissolved in 1956, it was profoundly influential in changing the idiom of Indian art.In 1997, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence, Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism was an important exhibition curated by R.Sivakumar at the National Gallery of Modern Art.Contemporary Indian artists draws heavily upon scientific techniques to design their creativity.
The contemporary art is driven or inspired by scientific and technological innovation. The only addition in the Indian context is the integration of philosophy and theology with scientific techniques
Contemporary artists are drawing on kinetics, biology, bio-engineering, robotics and information technologies to explore new forms of creative expression. Some of the most enterprising creative works are being done in the laboratory and not in the studio, where artists investigate concerns of socio-cultural and philosophical nature connected with cutting-edge scientific and technological research.
History proves that there has been a connection in between Art and Science since time immemorial. The two disciplines cannot be thought without each other. There exists an enduring relationship in between Art and Science. They both naturally overlap.
(The writer claims no credit for the images and factual inputs used in this article as they have been taken from different sources including internet, and are assumed to be in public domain and are displayed only for academic purpose)