Words: Jessica Mckendrick (She/Her)
The sciences and the arts are two fields which conventionally are seen as opposites. The calculated research and discovery in STEM is juxtaposed by the expression of creativity within art. While science exists to humans as the systematic pursuit of knowledge through testable explanations to further understanding of the universe, art is known to be the expression or application of human imagination in visual form, recognised for its emotional power. Undoubtedly, these two fields strive to break boundaries, each attempting to understand and interpret the world around us. These broken boundaries begin to merge, catalysing their fusion to form a single unity when we question whether there is a science to art and whether there is an art to science?
To the naked eye, science may not be considered artistic, however it can be argued that the pursuit of knowledge relies heavily on the creative mind of the scientist. The exploration of a new concept or prediction of a hypothesis requires a plethora of imagination and creative insight, features that if absent may constitute a failure in scientific discovery. This isn’t to say that pipettes are to be swapped for paintbrushes, but once recognised, the mutual existence of creativity within art and science would encourage a more seamless collaboration.
Many examples of science within art and art within science can be observed around us even without the use of a microscope. Take the Fibonacci sequence for example. Discovered by Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, the sequence comprises a series of numbers whereby each integer is the sum of those two proceeding it (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233 …). Many examples of this mathematical phenomenon exist naturally as the algorithm of the sequence is exponential, visually formulating a logarithmic spiral. Examples in nature can be seen in seashells, budding flowers, hurricane weather patterns and even in the ‘arms’ of spiralling galaxies.
Composition, though maybe often overlooked by the observer, is a key element to the appeal of an art piece. The aforementioned Fibonacci sequence has been recognised in the composition of many artists. Its principle encourages division of a piece, balancing its features into thirds, rather than centring them, resulting in a visually aesthetic layout for the ultimate composition, and has been recognised in the work of many of the greats. For example, Vincent Van Gogh’s infamous ‘Starry Night’ (1889), an impressionistic alliance of colour and shape in a whimsical portrayal of a stellar skyline rolling across a small hillside village, implements the logarithmic spiral of said sequence. The collaboration of deep blue hues and radiating golden orbs as stars swirl together into thirds mimicking the logarithmic Fibonacci spiral. This mathematical composition can be recognised in other works such as Leonardo De Vinci’s 1517 oil portrayal of The Mona Lisa through the composition of shape and tone within this venerated portrait.
Scientific composition in art isn’t just limited to the Fibonacci sequence – psychedelic work is renowned for its efforts to depict the inner world of the psyche. Abstract geometric repetition and kaleidoscopic motifs often seen in highly saturated colours play on the mind’s perspective of symmetry and pattern in replication and infinity into a hallucinogenic experience within the brain. The science of refraction and symmetry in reflection lends itself to the resulting calculated arrangement of shape in hyperbolic optical surrealism (frequently accompanied by the biochemical reactions following ingestion of psychedelic drugs) as a harmonic collaboration of science and art.
Colour theory is an additional realm of art rooted in science utilising the geometry of the colour wheel to optimise the visual effects of colour combination. Chromoluminarism (the optical interaction of separated individual dots of colour) reads deeply into the laws of colour theory, characteristic of neo-impressionist painting in an attempt to reach maximum luminosity scientifically possible without mixing colours.
Ultimately science and art exist in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, the intimate interaction between both fields whereby one cannot survive without the other. We can thus wave the white flag on this battle between STEM and the arts, pairing paint clad overalls with laboratory coats, as the individual recognises themselves as both the scientist and the artist in their pursuit of understanding of the expanding world around them.