Glendon Mellow

Toronto, Canada

Glendon Mellow – Testing the hypothesis people crave surreal scientific illustrations. / Portfolio: Art in Awe of Science / Blog:...

Scientific accuracy and art

This post originally appeared on my blog, The Flying Trilobite on 27 Sept, 2010 , complete with images.

  • * *

When you type the word “trilobite” into Google’s Blog Search, The Flying Trilobite is currently the first to come up.

But I stick wings on them.

Don’t I have any sense of responsibility? At this moment, I have the first blog to come up about trilobites, and what am I doing? Cackling away while putting wings on aquatic arthropods in my oil paintings. Irresponsible. Think about the children!

So what’s it for?

What does my tagline, Art in Awe of Science even mean if I am going to subvert the science? The science of paleontology reveals through careful examination what life was like long ago, and how its remains have been preserved. Then I hop in, and start painting wings that didn’t evolve for almost another 500 million years on the beasties.

Should I take more care, and somehow display Art in Awe of Science with more reverence to the truth? Is the communication of scientific ideals by artists and illustrators the pinnacle of what sci-art is all about?

What is science-art for? Scientific illustration, its fraternal twin has clear goals, and laudable ones. Scientific illustrations communicate with rigor and accuracy ideas which will aid the scientist. Sure, the scientific illustrator eliminates some of the oozy guckiness of the human body when revealed in diagrams, but this is to enhance and clarify the relevant internal landscape of the human body for the surgeon. Laudable.

Science-art is for something else. Is it the communication of information?

Roger Malina informs us that next year, NSF Informal Education Division is sponsoring an art-science workshop, entitled, “Art as a Way of Knowing”, to be held at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Is science-based art a “Way of Knowing”?

What do you know when you look at say, a winged trilobite?

You know, I could just say screw it: everything is just representation, removed from reality, held at arm’s length by our senses, and artwork is even further removed. The scientific illustrator who carefully 3D renders a pristine skeleton is creating just as much an obfuscation of reality as it really really is as I am with my art-hack little flying trilobites. So there.

Except for the scientific illustrator, teaching and clarity are goals.

What are my goals? (art-hack)

According to the title of the NSF-sponsored workshop, apparently what I do may be a Way of Knowing. But I feel that’s putting the goal a little too strongly. You might say it’s Making the Goal.

Way of Knowing. That’s a tall order.

I think a “Way of Knowing” is putting the (painterly, Impressionistic) cart before the (fully-3D-rendered, proper lighting and gamma) horse.

I think the purpose, the path, the roadway of science-art is as a Way of Exploring.

It’s a way for the science-artist to explore forms: to marry and synthesize separate ideas in to a new idea, because we’re human, we’re awesome and we can do that.

It’s a way for the viewers of science-art to explore what they see, how they reconcile their knowledge and become intrigued and curious and oh my! who would have thought. They can explore how the dabs of mineral and plant oil reflect light and shapes and plug into the visual centers to show them something that isn’t dabs of minerals and plant oil.

As a Way of Exploring, science-art is for scientists a way of facing a mirror of absurdities that realigns thinking on research, its a way of marrying the disparate to ponder how it would be possible.

Journal Comments

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait