True story: I had to have plastic surgery on my ears and during the process I asked my surgeon what her passion was (besides chopping up the human body) and she said “art”. It surprised me probably more than it should have that my surgeon, gingerly chopping up my ear lobe while having this conversation with me, spent a great deal of her early career as a scientific illustrator.
Remembering this got me thinking one again about how closely science and art really exist, and how they really can’t exist without eachother. It seems so obvious considering there are entire movements dedicated to, well, realism. But scientific illustrations and art are a little different I think, though the lines are a little blurred. Consider that the animal kingdom is full of brilliance and wonders that defy imagination. When an illustration is made depicting such extravagance, even the most stale, bare-bones to-the-T drawing will end up knocking your socks off. Like this one,
It’s just a fish and it is also AWESOME. This slide is from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) exhibition Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration from the Museum’s Library.
The ongoing exhibition features a number of artists including Albrecht Dürer ( whose rhino above is just insanely cool), Joseph Wolf, Moses Harris, John Woodhouse Audubon, and Maria Sibylla Merian. Of course it won’t be just animals in the exhibit, you can count on more glorious illustrations of plants, landscapes, and even humans to be there. All illustrated to spread important information about our animal kingdom, but art none-the-less.
While illustrating the visual world, it’s easy to be inspired but imagination doesn’t really come into play. Scientific illustrations are meant to educate, not titillate, even if that is the end result. Artist Julius Csotonyi on the other hand has the opportunity to stand on both sides of the aisle, so to speak. His work as a paleoartist is, I imagine, is a bit of a creative blessing and curse. Of course he has to stay within the bounds of our scientific understanding of the animals, but he does get to play around a bit, and it is really great to see.
However fun it is to see dinosaurs ‘in action’ in his art, Csotonyi’s work has been featured in a number of museum exhibits and exhibitions, scientific books, and encyclopedias, featuring animals that we formerly only understood in the form of rocks and imprints. His latest book, The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi: Dinosaurs, Sabertooths, & Beyond features over 100 illustrations that just ignite the imagination with the great side-effect of actually being educational with a legitimate background in scientific theory and anatomy.
So there you have it. Next time someone tries to say that science is ‘better’ than art, or that art is ‘more important than science’, just sit down, share a milkshake and flip through Csotonyi’s work or stroll through the halls of the AMNH holding hands. You will see that while they are made of different strokes, it is all part of the same picture. We simply could not have one without the other.