Science and Nature

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Science and Nature

It might seem that art and mathematics are worlds apart, but in truth, they are inextricably linked. Everything in nature has a mathematical core. Nature looks random, yet the precision in the construction of a flower-head or cell development tells us how much order and beauty mathemathics gives to the design of the natural world.

Mathematics, science and art come together when you look at the design of Architectural buildings. Lets take, for example, the famous Dome on the Santa Del Fiori in Florence.

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Built during the Fifteenth Century, it was the largest dome ever constructed at that time and required the skills of artists, craftsmen, scientists and mathematicians. New forms of pulleys, counterweights and breaking gear were invented to lift blocks of marble and sandstone, weighing up to two tons, to heights never achieved before.

The formulae of the finest mathematician PauloToscanelli were necessary to understand whether load-bearing elements within the base structure could hold the weight of the Dome without becoming unstable. Of course, nothing would have happened without the vision of the architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, who designed the building in the first place. It is said that Brunelleschi changed architecture from a Mechanical into a Liberal art.

Our system for understanding perspective, which is mathematically based, is also attributed to Brunelleschi. To illustrate the rules of perspective, see the section on Perspective in Drawing, Seeing and Observing, by Ian Simpson.

Many renaissance artists were fascinated with perspective and such artists as Paulo Ucello, Piero Della Francesca and Leonardo Da Vinci spent much time trying to understand it. They used all sorts of devices to demonstrate their knowledge. In fact, in the painting, The Battle of San Romano, 1450; Ucello was so engrossed with finding complicated ways of demonstrating perspective, that he loses the sense of realism in his painting.

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I mentioned earlier how some Twentieth Century artists did not stick to the traditional rules in order to forward their ideas. The artist, M.C. Escher in his composition Relativity, 1953, threw away these normal rules of perspective to create his own remarkable illusions of space.

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Escher trained as an architect, but became an artist to satisfy a different creative need. He used his technical knowledge to help him make real the fantastic images that came into his head. In this piece, he invented three earth planes that crossed each other at right angles and to my unmathematical mind, it is very hard to grasp what is going on when you look at the composition as a whole. I have to let my eye move from area to area to make sense of Esher's fantasy world.

He has used his experience together with his imagination to create unique worlds, successfully challenging what went with his imagination to create unique worlds using different horizon levels that intersect and merge - to add further interest - move from two-dimensional to three-dimensional forms of drawing.

The Golden Section is a mathematical formula, which is supposed to express the secret of visual harmony. Quite simply, if a line is divided into two so that the smallest part is to the larger, as the larger is to the whole, then you have traditional proportion. Very roughly, the ratio is equivalent to 8:13 (for the mathematicians, 1:Ø).

The Gate of the Kiss by the sculptor Constantine Brancusi conforms to the Golden Section formula.

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Brancusi was asked to create a monument to the soldiers who pushed back the German invasion at Tirgu in 1916. The dimensions of the monument are 5.13 x 6.45 x 1.69 metres and it is his only public sculpture, it is comprised of two pillars and a lintel on whose four sides the theme of The Kiss, 1909, is repeated 40 times.

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Here, Brancusi attempts to capture the spirit of the bond between the soldiers who were brought together in the struggle for freedom.

He was constantly searching for the perfect balance in his sculpture and the environment into which it is set. At the same time, this structure had to impart many messages to the viewer. Concepts, such as bonding, comradeship, burden, responsibility, sacrifice, stability, love, death, passion and peace.

On a simplistic level, we could say the horizontal lintel, which stabilises the structure, giving it solidity, bonds the two pillars. On the other hand, one could see the two pillars as carrying the burden of the lintel, sacrificing their forms to a greater whole.

Is this what Brancusi wanted us to read into his sculpture?

I suspect not. I think he wanted to achieve something even greater than this on a spiritual level. Something we cannot always put into words, but we feel it when we look at certain shapes or when we enter certain spaces. It is not the decoration or surface detail, but something greater than the sum of these parts. I wonder if Brancusi thought by working to the formulae of the golden section, he would achieve that sense of spirituality or inner peace in this monument, you must judge for yourself, but proportion, scale, balance, texture and form all have their place in any type of construction.

For me, this monument is rooted solidly to the earth like a great Norman church giving a sense of permanence and stability. If the pillars were taller, I wonder whether the same feeling or emotion would be evoked.

You might like to redraw the sculpture with different proportions and look again. Does this Golden Section give you that sense of perfect balance, stirring emotions within you? If you were given such a task as a memorial of this kind where would you look for inspiration? Would you use science as your starting point?

If we look more obviously into the science lab and look at this Francis Leyroy's photograph of a large cancer cell being attacked by white cells and then look at the painting called Invasion by Josette Emmerson.

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You can perhaps see where Emmerson's inspiration came from. The world of the microscope can throw up unimaginable creatures and environments. Could this be a mutant organism or a monstrous creature found thousands of fathoms beneath the surface of the sea, even an alien from some different planet? Look also at the photograph of the fungus growing up from the crevices of human skin, (which apparently causes athletes foot), what would your imagination make of that!

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There is a fashion exhibition currently running at the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University called Primitive Streak. It is based on the first thousand hours of life and it came about directly as a result of collaboration between two sisters: one, a scientist and the other, an artist. Here, fashion has been used to impart scientific knowledge.

In the exhibition, you will find the sperm coat, using repeated DNA sequences. The spinal column dress, where 8,000 fibre optics run through the dress, carrying red and black colouring and a hat showing the development of the heart at 21 days. The two sisters are Helen Storey and Doctor Kate Storey.

Lastly, look at one of Damien Hirst's latest sculptures, called Hymn

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It stands 20 feet tall, weighs ten tons and it is based on a cheap scientific acid, a model of the human body originally crafted for the science lab. The scale of this work dwarfs the viewer, managing to convey that sense of humankind's vulnerability and temporariness like the feeling you get when you are standing in a vast mountainous landscape.

Hirst is no stranger to the techniques and stimulation found within the science lab since his headline-making composition of a calf sawn in half and suspended in formaldehyde.

It was Leonardo Da Vinci who was probably the most prolific artist inventor who believed that a thorough understanding of nature was essential to an artist. It is true, that by understanding the things around us, we can draw out our own ways of representing what we see. To have understood, we must first have been made aware of, the more we look, the more we see and the more we understand.

Outside in Roald Dahl's garden carved in a paving stone is this message:

"Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."

You have the magic!