On October 31, in 1512, Michelangelo showed his painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling to the public. After spending months on his back completing his work, he had created what is now known as High Renaissance art but he was also practicing ‘physics’.
When Picasso crafted a bicycle’s handlebars into the horns of a bull he was creating art of a different kind and he was also practicing ‘physics’.
Light (photons) have driven painters to experiment on canvas for centuries. In the 17th century, Rembrandt mastered the art of chiaroscuro, (the manipulation of shadow and light) to create masterpieces.
184 years after Rembrandt’s death another Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert Holland. Though during his lifetime he would sell only one painting Red Vineyard at Arles, for 400 francs. In the 1980s his painting, Self-portrait with bandaged ear, would sell for $90 million dollars. And you guessed it, he was consumed with …light! So much so that in 1888, he moved to Arles in the south of France where he brightened his pallet and completed 300 paintings.
When the painter Cezanne lived in L’Estaque, he investigated light in a different way sometimes carrying three canvas renderings so he could paint the same subject at different times of the day. Light!
Perhaps the most innovative painters as a group were the Impressionists. Eduard Manet’s work inspired them to seek new ways to see old things. Degas, Mary Cassatt, Pizarro, Pierre-August Renoir, and Georges Seurat (who used tiny dots of color to render reality on his canvas) helped each other develop their own painting styles.
In 1891, Paul Gauguin sought light and new motifs in Tahiti, French Polynesia. His work would combine ‘Christian themes with the pagan native Polynesian culture’ that art collectors would not buy leading to his impoverished death in the Marquesas Islands.
What were all these artists seeking?
Robert Henri gives us a clue. In his book, The Art Spirit:
“We are not here to do what has already been done.”
Whoever the artist may be, Francisco de Goya, Winslow Homer, Diego Rivera, or Salvador Dali with his melting watches, they are practicing physics.
Rendering a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional canvas is, well, physics.
And Art is not just painting but music and poetry, sculpture, printmaking, photography, drama, film, dance, literature, and infinite forms of expression of the life force not limited to the human condition as even elephants and cats have been known to ‘paint’
Generally speaking, when an artist gets the physics right the result is the best work the artist can create. It is the same when we apply ‘physics’ to our Universe.
So the artists have had it right all along:
“The form matter takes depends upon the conditions in which matter exists in space.”