Saturday, May 21, 2011

Growing Art

A Day in The Life. Page 9 color pencils

One of the things that fascinates me is how ideas and creativity come about. I especially like the instances where science and art collide to produce the most wonderful discoveries and artwork.  More than ever this illustrates that we can all learn techniques- be it scientific methodology or how to lay down paint but to have a breakthrough, to make big discoveries seems to require something almost magical! I came across three  different stories about Alexander Fleming and his discovery of penicillin. There is much more there than simply happenstance. 

Smithsonian article explained that long before Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotics, he was a painter, a member of the Chelsea Arts Club. He used watercolors, but that was not his favored medium.  He painted ballerinas, houses, stick figures fighting and other subjects by using bacteria! The  article says :"He produced these paintings by growing microbes with different natural pigments in the places where he wanted different colors. He would fill a petri dish with agar, a gelatin-like substance, and then use a wire lab tool called a loop to inoculate sections of the plate with different species. The paintings were technically very difficult to make. Fleming had to find microbes with different pigments and then time his inoculations such that the different species all matured at the same time. These works existed only as long as it took one species to grow into the others. When that happened, the lines between, say, a hat and a face were blurred; so too were the lines between art and science."  Further down the article is the revelation :"On that fateful morning, what Fleming actually discovered was, in a way, a version of one of his paintings. Each of the colonies of Staphylococci bacteria that he had inoculated on the plate had grown into a small shape resembling a planet or a star in a night sky. But there among his wild planets was something else, a larger, lighter body at the top of the dish, the Penicillin fungus. Around it the sky was dark, where the bacteria were dying. It was his masterpiece, his “rising sun,” the painting that would save more lives than any other discovery."

Read the Smithsonian article: Painting with Penicillin: Alexander Fleming's Germ Art  and then listen to PRI's Studio 360 story : Godfather of BacteriaOn PRI's link Painting with E.Coli,  there is also a photo of one of Flemings paintings :) 

A blog Growing Impressions-Gulden/Baldwin records the collaboration between artist Amy Gulden and scientist Dr. Kristin Baldwin :"...we have enlisted a natural organism, E. coli bacteria, to generate images that resemble paintings or prints, but that have a unique set of patterns that could not be generated using non living materials. We hoped that by letting nature generate its own patterns we would trigger the interest of the eye and the visual brain, which has evolved to pay attention to the irregular patterns generated by natural growing objects."  There is an amazing collection of 'paintings' in that site!

This goes to show that we definitely need to nurture curiosity. Arts and science is a very artificial seperation of  knowledge!

10 comments:

Katherine Thomas said...

Wonderful post, Meera. I wish more people would realize the connection between art and science. (And art and every other subject area) Art is the foundation to everything, isnt it? Love your sketch of the dancing fabrics too!

Yvonne said...

Very interesting Meera. I had no idea. Thanks for the posting.

meera said...

Thank you, Katherine. Isn't that an amazing story --goes to show we should label and compartmentalize -never know where a door opens!

meera said...

Yuvonne, thanks! me neither - But I was so tickled when I saw/read/and listened to the stories!

padmaja said...

Very valuable post Meera! We cant stop observing any minute to learn something new and the more you observe, the more you learn.

Sadami said...

Dear Meera,
Wow, what a thoughtful post!! I've learned a lot from you. Thank you for visiting my blog. Very happy to know you enjoyed it and got something--is my highest honour. You make charming art work and fascinating photos. Please keep up.
Kind regards, Sadami

meera said...

Padmaja, Thank you! I am just fascinated how everything is interconnected :)

meera said...

Thank you, Sadami, I am very happy to know you through your wonderful art and heartened by your comments.

Living in Art said...

good heavens, the Fleming story, had not heard that, thank you for sharing, I feel my day is the better for it, or what is left of my day ~
Continued good things.

meera said...

Thanks Tina! Amazing story isn't it?

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