Art and Science: Cooperating Together to Push Society Forward
Art has the ability to inspire the world to work toward something once thought impossible or unknown before. Scientific innovation can inspire art that questions what we are truly seeing in our lives. When both are utilized together, works of art can complement science just as science can complement art. Without art, science would remain stagnant and limit societies ability to question what is possible. Without science, the ability to create works of art that seem modern and put society in a new mindset would vanish. Both scientific advancement and artistic inspiration need each other to generate forward momentum in society.
Art comes in many forms, but to be related to science it is much more applicable in the visual and literary arts. While art and science have been influencing one another for much human history, we will review three time periods in art and it’s relation to science. Beginning with the Renaissance and Leonardo Da Vinci’s art works influencing science through his experimentation. Moving into the Enlightenment with Immanuel Kant’s essay pushing society to think for themselves, encouraging people to know as much as they can. Finally, Giacomo Balla, a futurist painter obsessed with the new innovations of speed and light which inspired him to paint beyond his time. We will examine these art works to understand how art and science are forever entwined.
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The Renaissance was a time that allowed art to thrive, with new risky subject matter that emphasized on humanity as a whole and not strictly Christianity. One such man that thrived then, who had the skills of an engineer, an architect, a scientist, and a skilled painter[footnoteRef:1] was none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. A true “Renaissance Man,” someone who is capable of utilizing multiple skills to solve the many problems life throws your way. However, Da Vinci was no amateur at these skills, he was a genius and capable of mastering any of the skills he employed for his work. Most notably known for art works such as the Mona Lisa, The Virgin of the Rocks, and The Last Supper.[footnoteRef:2] These works made him a well-known artist and was able to utilize his skills not only in art, but throughout many other fields of study. He was also well acquainted with human anatomy and was quite interested in this field of study.[footnoteRef:3] With his skill in art and his intrigue with human anatomy, he was able to document the complexities of the human body like nobody before. [1: Britannica Academic, s.v. “Leonardo da Vinci,” accessed April 4, 2019, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Leonardo-da-Vinci/108470.] [2: Ibid. par. 28, 29, 39] [3: Ibid. par. 57]
In the Da Vinci pen-and-ink work simply titled, Human Fetus, created in 1510, we see what an artist can do when documenting human anatomy that has never been documented before. This view of a child inside the womb was new in Da Vinci’s time and with him illustrating each of the fine details, people were able to get a better understanding of what really happens in the womb. The work of an artist really plays here; not just doodles and some notes are on this old page but real art that is meticulous down to the seemingly unimportant parts. A child sits in a fetal position face down in the womb; almost making you feel that this is how Da Vinci had found the poor unborn child. Da Vinci even shades this sketch as if he is actually painting a commissioned piece and this is how the lighting was when he was conducting this experiment. The child looks like it was almost supposed to be born, the proportions are correct, the toes are fully grown, and is the correct size of a normal human baby.
Words are scattered all over the page with multiple sketches surrounding the main piece, like each step of this process of dissection had its own sketch and note to accompany it. Da Vinci also had a unique way of writing that was mirrored, everything is backwards.[footnoteRef:4] Some believe he did this to prevent smudging over his writings and works. Science and medical practice have thankfully come a long way since then, but would it have without artists like Da Vinci illustrating an excessive amount detail? To dissect and document is one thing, but to create a work of art that illustrates the complexities of the cadaver you are dissecting is another. [4: Ibid. par. 36]
Throughout history, art and science has been plagued by various religious doctrines and churches limiting what could and could not be painted or questioned. This was quite an issue for many like Da Vinci who wanted to do so much more but were limited to what was allowed. Kings and Popes would make or change rules to what they deemed fit during their time of reign and for some, it was beginning to get old. Some began to see how society was lacking to think for itself, and not discovering or creating anything new without the guidance of a superior. This all changed in the time of the Enlightenment. A German philosopher by the name of Immanuel Kant, who wrote “What is Enlightenment?” an essay that was encouraging others to “Dare to know!”[footnoteRef:5] Kant clearly addresses the power of the church in this essay, that they are the worst when it comes to limiting thought of the people. [5: Kant, Immanuel. An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?. 1784. par. 1]
Kant uses a word he describes as “nonage,”[footnoteRef:6] the lack of courage to complete tasks without the approval or guidance of a greater force. You may be asking yourself, “How exactly is this related to art and science?” Kant is quoted saying, “. . . because our rulers have no interest in playing the guardian to their subjects in the arts and sciences.”[footnoteRef:7] Kant like many others began to see how art and science were being affected by people who lacked the motivation to do things on their own. His language throughout the essay is assertive in showing his disgust for the issue at hand and how society is being held back from its full potential. He uses many phrases that avoids possibly putting him in the crosshairs of the people he is criticizing. Such as never using actual names and creating fake scenarios that mimic how society at the time behaved. [6: Ibid. par. 1] [7: Ibid. par. 11]
Without Kant’s essay, would art or science have been able to break free from the grasp of a lazy or controlling society? Kant’s essay is structured to point out each portion of society that is holding it back from moving forward. From the lazy people in the world who need to be led by “guardians,”[footnoteRef:8] the religious leader who destroys anything questioning the church, to the monarchies limiting freedoms of its people. Kant not only uses his pulpit to criticize people creating these limitations; also, what happens when freedom is gained, and people can freely think for themselves. This creates a society who are capable of free thought and can now do as they please. This new freedom was used by many to create art that questioned and pushed society to think ahead of its time, accompanied science. [8: Ibid. par. 2]
Many artistic and scientific movements erupted after the Enlightenment for many years and are still being generated to this day. A significant movement that had art and science deeply entwinned in its philosophy was the Futurist movement. A group of individuals who were awestruck by the new technology arriving around the time of the first World War. The futurists were obsessed with speed and the relatively new invention of the automobile, along with the creation of light through electricity. They also had some sinister beliefs like destroying history in libraries and museums, so people will create new ideas that do not have the ability to refer to the past. An artist in their movement that had the ability to illustrate the passion futurists had with modern scientific advancement in art: Giacomo Balla.
Giacomo Balla, an Italian artist and credited with creating the Futurist movement in painting.[footnoteRef:9] A skilled painter with a unique style, who could capture the movement of everyday life in a painting. His paintings feel as if they are moving and the viewer can connect with the piece, simply because the art resembles real life observations. Balla’s piece named, Street Light, painted in 1909, is capable at making the viewer believe they have seen this before. When walking down a dark street; you happen to glance up a bright street light and see it’s illuminating light is almost blinding as it sends its rays of light in all directions. Balla was able to create this effect with the vibrant yellow of the light in the center of the painting, making the light feel excruciatingly bright. While the light that is sent out toward the edges is red, white, and green to give more contrast with the complementary colors used as it moves away from the bright yellow lamp. The darkness is being forced to the corners of the painting, making the viewer feel as if the darkness is running away from the light. [9: Britannica Academic, s.v. “Giacomo Balla,” accessed April 4, 2019, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Giacomo-Balla/11988]
Balla was able to portray his love for this new advancement in science by placing the moon in his painting. The moon, which was the previous source of light at night before the creation of electric lighting, is almost completely covered by Balla’s single stroked red, white and green chevrons. These chevrons that seem to be launching out of the street light, drown out the moon’s light. This makes the moon feel rather worthless and no longer needed, for we now have the ability to have the brightness of day through the night. Balla makes the viewer, just as he did, appreciate the light and its ability to provide sight when its dark.
Art and science to many may feel in no way connected, but that is most certainly incorrect. Just as art had the ability to influence science with Da Vinci’s skill in illustrating the complexities of pregnancy, which had never been seen before. When science and art become limited because of society’s lack of intuition and creativity, philosophers are able to spark an era that generates art that pushes boundaries with scientific advancements that improve our everyday lives. Lastly, when those same scientific advancements create inspiration in artists like Balla, who are then able to create works of art that show the world is becoming technologically advanced for the betterment of society. These examples are proof that art and science are connected and will forever be an influence for each other.
- Britannica Academic, s.v. “Giacomo Balla,” accessed April 4, 2019, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Giacomo-Balla/11988.
- Britannica Academic, s.v. “Immanuel Kant,” accessed April 4, 2019, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Immanuel-Kant/108443.
- Britannica Academic, s.v. “Leonardo da Vinci,” accessed April 4, 2019, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Leonardo-da-Vinci/108470.
- Kant, Immanuel. An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?. 1784.