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.
A 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 Bacteria. On 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!