Here's another fun piece from Dark Roasted Blend - and, naturally, in my new book, Welcome to Weirdsville. This time it's about artists who are scientists ... and scientists who are artists.
reads contradictory, conflicted: the art of science/science of art –
the mixture of the logical and methodical with the imaginative and
But science and art – or, if you’d prefer,
art and science – have held hands, if not close friends, for a very long
time. Greek and Roman artists followed often strict guidelines
considering the correct mathematical proportions of the figures in their
frescoes and sculptures, Japanese woodblocks were as much about
mechanical precision as they were about the subject being printed, the
Renaissance was all about using science to bring a literal new dimension
to painting, and then you have the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.
you haven’t heard of Leopold or Rudolf Blaschka – but you certainly
should have. Unlike the Greeks and and Romans, the Japanese Ukiyo-e
artists, Michangelo and Leonardo, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka aren’t
well known outside of either esoteric or scientific circles.
is what makes them so remarkable: they mixed the staggering beauty of
pure art with a precision and dedication worthy of great scientists.
and Rudolf were glass artisans – possibly some of the greatest, ever.
But what they created weren’t just glass and goblets, lampshades and
windows. Nope, Leopold and Rudolf created nature.
here’s the story: Professor George Lincoln Goodale, of Harvard, wanted
to teach botany. But the problem with teaching botany is that plants
have a tendency to … well, die. Sure, you could preserve some specimens
but lots of species just don’t look the same after being dried – the
plant version of stuffed and mounted. Yes, you could try using paintings
or even photography but plants are – and here’s a surprise -- three
dimensional. So what Professor Goodale did was ask the Blaschkas to
create glass plants to help him teach his students about real ones.
the Blaschkas did more than just recreate plants: they created
astounding works of not only scientific accuracy but pure, brilliant,
art. Looking at even the simplest of their efforts is deceptive – a sign
of their genius. Their reproductions don't resemble the original plants
– they look EXACTLY like them, created by hand, in fickle and fragile
glass. All from 1887 to 1936.
What’s even more
impressive is how many they created: more than 3,000 models of some 850
species – many of which can be seen on display at Harvard while many
others are being painstakingly restored.
Blaschkas didn’t stop at plants. Not to take anything away from their
artistry, but plants are relatively simple subjects. In some cases the
Blaschkas could even work from live, or recently plucked, models. But
there are much more difficult subjects out there, creatures so rare and
fragile that very few men have ever seen them in their delicate flesh –
even more frail than the glass the Blaschkas used to recreate them.
these reproductions were made, in the late 19th century, only a few
marine explorers and a few lucky seaman had seen any of them. Octopi,
urchins, sea cucumbers, anemones, jellyfish, cuttlefish – they were too
rare, too fragile, to be seen outside of the sea. That is until the
I wish there was some way to request a
moment of silence. I wish there was some way to ask you to stop reading
this and look at the pictures here and at other places of the web. I
wish there was some way for you to have a nice glass of wine, put on
some nice music – maybe Bach, who also mixed science and art – and just
admire the care, the craft, and the pure art the Blaschkas created.
Blaschka brothers left an inspirational legacy. Josiah McElheny – the
recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant – is a kindred spirit to the
Blaschkas, another mind-blowing artist who works in the whimsical and
temperamental world of glass … and the disciplined domain of science.
works -- like that of the Blaschka brothers -- finds inspiration in the
universe around us, particularly with one sculpture that depicts a key
moment. In many ways this is a perfect place to stop: the Blaschka
brothers created perfect artistic reproductions of nature to teach
science, and McElheny created a sculptural interpretation of the
ultimate act of creation, as discovered by science: the Big Bang.
art of science, the science of art … in the end they are both looking
for the same thing: a way to show the nature of everything.