Although it may not have crossed your mind before to find a link between Art and Biology, the two actually share many connotations with one another. Classically, Art has been the study of humans and other organisms, with a strong focus on highlighting the intricacies of nature.
Of course, illustrations and images are required for your academic textbooks, in order to teach you about scientific concepts, but Biology has a much bigger connection to the world of Art than just that.
Keep reading to find out how Science and Art combine to celebrate biological processes and phenomenon. If you don't already, this will teach those art lovers among you to love Biology too!
Life Drawing – The Human Figure
The human form has been the subject of many paintings over time, but while photographs of nude bodies are still somewhat controversial in today's society, historically there was no shame in nudity in art.
Figure drawing has been around for many centuries and describes the sketching of the human figure, male or female, in various shapes and postures. Purely observational, artists following this particular style of art have limited freedom to express themselves because they are using a living and breathing person standing before them to compose their works of art.
Even in prehistoric times, society was concerned with anatomy and drawings suggest an already sophisticated view of the human form. In the late 1700s, the ability to master drawing was seen as a prerequisite for artists and so many had to spend hours in the drawing room practicing their craft.
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To this day, art students continue to draw models, often in a circle or semi-circle so that no one has the same perspective.
Contemporary artists might choose to exaggerate or distort aspects of the model’s appearance to bring something extra to their art piece, balancing composition with style.
Those who do life drawing are encouraged to learn how to draw figures of all types, thus opening up their eyes to the fact that all body shapes are different.
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Human Anatomy Art
While life or figure drawing is quite matter of fact in its execution and is very much about putting down on paper what you see on the surface, some artists are more interested in what lies beneath.
So many of us go through our lives without really knowing much about the intricacies of our bodies, like our anatomy and the processes our organs go through to keep us alive every second of every day. (Not to mention all of the emotional states that our mind and body experience over our lifetime.)
Figure artists, however, draw humans in a very realistic style, displaying an understanding of the structure of the human body, including muscles, bones and organs. One of the best examples of this is Michelangelo's series of studies of nude men.
Like these artists who study the human body in an attempt to recreate it on paper, once you begin studying the finer details of our bodily parts then your eyes will be opened to the sophistication of our figures. Having appreciated what our bodies can do, and how well they do it, you will never look at them in the same way!
Rembrandt famously painted a series of paintings focused on surgeons which, although less detailed than Michelangelo's sketches, brought about interest in human anatomy.
With less information and knowledge of what was beneath the layers of our skin back then, the fascination with autopsies and dissection was of course quite astounding. People were naturally curious about corpses and the artist’s motif was to reflect on these lessons in anatomy.
Abstract Art And The Human Form
The Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, was a very important figure in Art during the 20th century, and had a very particular style when it came to expressing the human body.
Not one to follow trends, the innovative artist rearranged the traditional outlook of the male and female bodies into an abstract form. He completely abandoned known form and brought to the surface the question of what is real and what is illusion, playing with feelings and emotions too.
This approach has even more relevance today, with so much emphasis on looks and the idea of what is beautiful. If Picasso were still alive and painting today, we wonder how we would have depicted the falseness of cosmetic surgery or the startling transformations that come from modern methods of applying make up or using controversial hair dyes?
Although not exactly considered a popular form of art, photography has a very important place in the world of Biology, and particularly in the area of crime investigation.
This, in spite of the magnificent drawings Darwin rendered of the species he catalogued on the Galapagos!
On crime scenes, photographs are taken as a visual representation of how the scene was left, including any relevant objects or, in the case of massacres, corpses. In the case of fatal attacks or robberies, a crime scene investigator will arrange for photographs of the deceased to be taken. If you have watched CSI: Miami or Silent a Witness, you will be very familiar with this process.
While most photographs are kept guarded in police files, some chilling photos are released to the public, including some macabre photos showing New York crime scenes in the 1910s which have been printed as part of a book called Murder in the City, by Wilfried Kaute.
Although the pictures were not intended for the public, they have been collated and serve a purpose to show what crime looked like in the Big Apple during this decade (where homicide rates were extremely high).
BioArt - Taking Art To The Extremes
BioArt, is a relatively new art practice whereby artists and scientists are creating pieces (mainly in the lab but also in studios and galleries) made from live tissues, bacteria and other living organisms.
Pioneers of this branch of art are determined to transform the science into works of art by using their bodies and other living things and by adopting the help of engineers and scientists.
Orlan, for example, is an artist who uses cosmetic surgery procedures to change her appearance to resemble famous images of women in art, using the procedure as part of the performance.
Her aim is to focus on the power of technology to transform our physical appearance. Orlan’s work also pushes boundaries in terms of human health with her numerous experiments with going under the knife. That sure is dedication to one’s craft!
A Quest To Find The Perfect Body?
Having considered all of the above examples, can we conclude that Biology’s place in art is centred around finding the perfect body?
While many people in society share roughly the same ideology concerning feminine and masculine beauty (hence why the same actors and singers are voted as the ‘sexiest’ or ‘best looking’ in magazine and television polls) it would seem that this belief of what is attractive and what isn’t is very much influenced by the times.
Just to prove that this is the case, you are unlikely to look at a painting from the 1700s, of a then very beautiful women or a strappingly handsome man, and to think that they are good-looking. This is because, as with most things, tastes change and external factors play a big part. What on earth might those from the 18th century have had to say about Kim Kardashian’s famous pear-shaped body, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bulging biceps?
The answer to the aforementioned question is therefore an astounding no. We can safely say, however, that Biology’s place in Art is to embrace the human body including all of our unique traits or imperfections, while also celebrating how strong and powerful our bodies are as well as referencing all that they are capable of doing.
Moving away from the controversies of the human body, however, plant matter has equally been the focus of many artists’ attention over the years.
Perhaps it is their ability to reproduce, just like humans, that draws us to flowers, or maybe it is simply because they look so nice.
Anatomical images of flowers are very popular among homeowners, with many prints and drawings being available to purchase online and in art or poster shops, but the subject is also very closely linked to your biological studies.
During your Biology GCSE course, you will be required to learn about plant reproduction, including the male and female sex cells and the process called pollination.
The flower is the reproductive organ of many plants and is therefore a hugely important piece of nature, as well as being a pleasant thing to look at.
There is such a thing as Scientific Botanical Art, which describes the ability to draw plants to scientific standards, i.e. using observation to create detailed illustrations of plants and their make-up.
This is a very important branch of art as it vital to helping scientists within the botanical field to recognise and distinguish species from one another, while documenting this information in the formal classification of plants.
Biology affects our everyday lives.
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Alternatively, you can read our blog on some of the vocabulary that you will need as a Biology student.
Moreover, you can discover more about how the subject has evolved over the years by visiting this blog.
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