Where art and science meet

 August 28, 2019

Image provided by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)(1999-05-29), the Omega Nebula (M17) resembles the fury of a raging sea, showing a bubbly ocean of glowing hydrogen gas and small amounts of other elements such as oxygen and sulfur. The nebula, also known as the Swan Nebula, is a hotbed of newly born stars residing 5,500 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. © NASA

Is there a connection between art and science? If yes, then can this connection shape our views of humanity and our universe? Such questions come to our minds when we see the beauty and vastness of our space via photographs and when scientific explorations give new meanings to life.

The relationship between arts and sciences might seem for many very opposite, being at the other extremes. While one seeks to find meaning in the external universe by gathering data and giving answers through objective reasoning, the other aims at expressing the unseen, the universe of emotions, dreams, imagination, passion. At the point however where the two meet, new viewpoints and visuals emerge, and the outer space and our inner lives become not so far from each other. This link and merging can bring us humans closer to each other as well as to the different geographical spaces we live in.

Space is perhaps one of those unique elements where the two - art and science - unite, where they meet and have a point of convergence, complementing each other. Space is a discovery scientifically, allowing us to open new horizons related to our own life as humans but it is also a discovery of immense beauty and power, as well as the worth of our lives as human beings.

Space and the universe have held our imaginations since many thousands of years but perhaps their biggest impact has been when the first images in the form of photos has been brought back to Earth. One of the latest collection of images of Earth, “Earth as Art” has been captured by satellites of NASA. The captured images show such wonder of visuals, that it makes us feel humble in front of the richness and diversity of beauty of our own planet and that of space and other planets. It makes us realize that creation is not only part of us human beings but everything is in a constant creation process.

Linking art and science together is still quite unusual, even though there have been several unique examples that intend to show different ways of thinking and living, which unfortunately are not so known. Just as not so known is the collaboration with artists that NASA has been involved in since 1962, called the NASA Art Program.

This collaboration reflects back its mission:

“to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind”.

It enlisted some of the time’s greatest visual artists, such as for example Norman Rockwell, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. Within the program, NASA commissioned the artists to interpret the space projects and explorations through their own eyes.

James Webb, who directed the launch of the Program wrote in a press release the following: “Important events can be interpreted by artists to give a unique insight into significant aspects of our history making advances into space”.

The participating artists received unprecedented access to the agency’s facilities and materials. They also could create freely whatever they wanted with whatever medium they felt like. This Program made it possible to include art in the scientific researches, it created the sort of intersection where science meets art for a bigger aim, which is reaching out to the inner worlds of humans. Seeing the space through the lens of an artist brings it closer and strenghtens the notion that we are part of the whole. The outer space is part of our inner space, part of what we call and feel home.

Art and science have been even more interlinked through other projects such as the recently launched #dearMoon Project. “Art has the power to promote world peace” believes Yusaku Maesawa, entrepreneur and art collector, who is also the founder of the #dearMoon project. Maesawa‘s vision and aim is to take several artists with him on his private space flight on board of SpaceX to the moon. Maesawa hopes to see new art created by the accompanying artists, inspired by their experiences, what they see and how they express it.

“We need to have people up there who can communicate what it feels like, not just pilots and engineers.“
— Buzz Aldrin
astronaut and first human to land on the Moon

Buzz Aldrin‘s, astronaut and first human to land on the Moon, universal message is reflected perfectly in Maezawa’s intention.

© NASA Goddard

One of the transformational powers that the space has is shown by the fact that many astronauts, scientifically focused and driven by it, over time and through their space discoveries, are drawn by humanities and art.

"Seven billion dreams. One Planet," said European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Ex-NASA astronaut Nicole Stott brought back to us her space memories and emotions with a special form of expression, showing us how art and science go hand in hand. Nicole Stott spent over 103 days living and working in space during three of her space missions. Seeing the Earth from space, Stott had an epiphany and she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to sharing that experience with others, living her current adventure as a full-time artist and motivational speaker.

Stott, like many of her former and present astronaut colleagues, is also a promoter of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math), the integration of art and science. It is a new educational and holistic approach to inspire children to think more broadly, creatively, solving problems flexibly. Through this approach children learn to be explorers and innovators in their lives without the fear of making mistakes. They develop a creator’s mindset whereby they freely use their imagination, creativity and inventive abilities.

With these and many other visions, projects, initiations and perspectives opening up, new and hopefully more peaceful ways of living are also growing to be the norm. Discovering the space through and with art, from the human side and linking it with science, has the potential to open up new ways of seeing each other, of interacting and building new levels of relationships, appreciating each other and our world, the Earth and the Universe we are part of.

In this natural-color image from August 31, 2010, the ocean’s canvas swirls with turquoise, teal, navy, and green, the abstract art of the natural world. © NASA Goddard

“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.“
— Alexei Leonov

This infrared image from NASA Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Helix nebula, a
cosmic starlet often photographed by amateur astronomers for its vivid colors and eerie resemblance to a giant eye. © NASA/JPL

The sky is the ultimate art gallery just above us.“
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
essayist, poet, philosopher

The International Space Station continues its orbit around the Earth as Expedition
50 astronauts captured this night image of sparkling cities and a sliver of daylight
framing the northern hemisphere. © NASA/JSC

“This was exactly what I experienced in space: immense gratitude for the opportunity to see Earth from this vantage, and for the gift of the planet we've been given.“
—Ronald J. Garan
NASA astronaut, author

An enhanced-color image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)
reveals bedrock that is several kilometers below the top of the giant Valles Marineris
canyons. © NASA

“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire — the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.“
— Ellen Ochoa

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