There seems to be a divide between the way scientists think about space and the way artist’s think about it. Even though science is concerned with the most minute details of space, we tend to think of space in broad strokes. An artist on the other hand, is able to take the same material and create something entirely different.
For example, look at a picture of earth from space, then look at an actual photo taken by a satellite. The former is striking and brings out something we don’t really see when we look at earth from our point of view on the ground, while the latter is dull and shows all the details we associate with being on earth.
The first thing that comes to mind when we think of space art is usually one of three things: Starry Night by Van Gogh, Space Station by Salvador Dali or The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. Any one who has seen any one of these paintings can see why they are memorable. But what exactly makes space art so interesting?
What turns a normal painting into an abstract piece? When you take away as much as possible and still have something that looks like a painting. This is what space artists do with their art; they take away everything except for light, color, movement and
The artist’s task is to bring out the hidden structure of the world. Art doesn’t just imitate life. It gives us a way to see what we otherwise can’t see. The artist’s discovery becomes our discovery, too.
Reginald W. Kauffman is a professor at Tufts University who works on exoplanets and studies them using data obtained with telescopes. But he also creates visualizations of exoplanets (and other astronomical phenomena) so that people without much technical knowledge can get a sense of what they look like.
The images are not photographs. They are renderings based on mathematical models, but they convey a sense of what it would be like to stand on one of those planets, or in its atmosphere, or beside one of the moons that orbit around it. More important, the images tell us things about those worlds we would never have known otherwise.
We have no experience at all of Being an Exoplanet (or for any other exo-something), nor even of standing in its atmosphere—and yet these pictures help us see what Being an Exoplanet might feel like; and that feeling tells us something new about our own world.
Solar system art is a new genre of art. It helps us understand the cosmos, but it also helps the cosmos to understand itself.
The universe is big, and our eyes are small. We rely on each other to see for us. At a distance, we depend on telescopes; up close, we depend on cameras. Our eyes take pictures, and our telescopes take pictures too; they just take bigger ones. The result is that we get to see farther into space than ever before, and farther back in time as well.
Taken together, all these pictures tell a story of creation and destruction: fire, ice, and rock turning into life and then back again into death. They tell of how the Earth was formed from a cloud of dust in space; how water was delivered to the Earth from comets colliding with Mars; how the Sun’s heat and light powers living things on Earth; how Saturn’s rings are made up of ghostly bits of moons that have broken apart over billions of years.
Without these images, most humans would think it impossible for there to be life out there at all. But here it is, captured in perfect detail for anyone with an Internet connection to see.
These images also show us what kind of place we live
The art of space is the way it makes us feel. We don’t usually think about judging art, but if we did, here is how we might go about it: compare the world before and after looking at the art.
There are two ways to look at space art. One is to compare it with science photographs; the other is to compare it with more conventional art.
Art photographs generally have some kind of useful purpose: they are meant to show you something you normally wouldn’t be able to see well, or they are meant to be beautiful in their own right. The first category includes pictures of faraway galaxies and nebulae, as well as microscopic shots of e. coli or Saturn’s rings. The second category includes abstract patterns such as those found in Islamic art, but also photographic tricks like fisheye lenses or mirrors that create unusual illusions. Space art doesn’t really fit into either of these categories: it doesn’t show you things you couldn’t otherwise see, and the things it does show are not particularly beautiful.
So if space isn’t very useful and isn’t very pretty, what is its appeal? Well, that’s part of what we want to understand here
The obvious solution: make a picture of what you want to show, then scale it up. But that doesn’t work. Art is about expressing meaning, not just making matches between image and object.
In science art we don’t see things directly. We see them indirectly, in representations that are constructed to highlight certain features and leave others out. Because scientific objects are so huge, or so distant, or so small, or so fast, or so slow, it’s almost impossible to represent them directly in a painting.
The problem is especially severe for space art; but there are also interesting solutions for other kinds of subjects.
Imagine the Earth if you were to look down on it from the moon. You would see a thin blue line–that’s our atmosphere. The vast majority of the Earth is covered by water, and it is so far away that it would be difficult to make out any details, like mountains or vegetation.
Even looking at pictures of Earth, we don’t really see how big our planet is. We’re so close to it that we can’t really tell what size it is compared to other things. It’s hard for us to get an idea of its true size and shape.
The same goes for our own solar system. We’ve sent spacecraft out into the solar system, and from their point of view we’re not even visible:
So why do we bother sending spacecraft into space? The real reason isn’t science, which is always just a side effect anyway; the real reason is art. It’s because seeing this stuff with your own eyes is so much more awesome than seeing it on TV or in a book.”
The human brain is an impressive piece of work. It can figure out that the person you are looking at is your mother and that she is sad, even when she doesn’t say anything or cry. It can tell the difference between a snake and a branch. It can even see a few things that aren’t there — like faces in clouds.
But sometimes it makes mistakes. For example, it might think that being on the surface of the moon is about as hard as being on the surface of the Earth. Or maybe it thinks that because the sun looks so big and bright, it must be close to you, but in fact it is 100 times farther away than people thought for most of human history.
The thing about our brains is, they don’t know anything about art. The brain evolved to help us survive in nature; its tools are good for solving certain kinds of problems, like whether there’s a tiger hiding behind a tree or how fast we’re running if we trip and fall. But making pictures? Not one of its jobs.
Trying to make art with just your brain can be tricky, though. It’s only one tool among many; you also need imagination and practice. You have to teach yourself what kinds of mistakes your brain is likely to