August 25, 2011 | 15
Where are all the space-art bloggers? When Symbiartic was in the planning stages, this was a post I knew I had to write. There are so few I found it at first surprising. Do the images from the Hubble trump inspiration in painters? Is interest in space waning compared to say, paleontology?
Science inspired art and artwork made with the tools of science is on the rise. The internet makes connecting and aggregating collections easier than ever, and the community is starting to slowly cohere, and I hope will emerge as a strongly recognized, diverse type of science communication alongside journalism. Some types of science-based art are wildly popular: paleo-art, the art of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures is a healthy, raucous, supportive community online, spearheaded in blogs by ART Evolved, overwhelmed in participation on deviantArt and party to strong new discussion groups such as Paleoexhibit on Facebook.
But space art, astronomy art, exoplanets and the cosmos in art all seem to be a lost frontier. So I commandeered both the Hubble and the Kepler, turned them earthward and found the few artists who dare to look up.
I posed a number of questions to a couple of space-art bloggers and a science artist (who has actually sent artwork into space!) to find out why they do what they do, and why space art hasn’t yet taken flight. Say hello to Lucy Jain, Jon Lomberg and Katy Ann Chalmers. I’ve linked to their main sites here and you can find more links to each artist at the end of the post. I’ve also interjected my own responses to some questions below.
So to ask each of you, why do you think there are there so few space artist bloggers out there?
Jon: Are there? Lucyjain says she is now in IAAA. I was one of the founding members but have not been active in the group for many years. I am glad to know it still exists. Don’t any of the IAAA artists blog? Kim Poor, owner of Novagraphics, a popular space art gallery and mail-order catalog, says that space art is dead. The movement (as an art movement) may have peaked about 1990. In 1987 I led the delegation of 7 USA artists to the Sputnik 30th Anniversary Space Futures Conference in Moscow. That led to a few international exhibitions and workshops in Pasadena, Death Valley, and Iceland. People were writing art manifestos and everything. I pulled back from the organization when the politics started getting messy, as usually happens in groups.
I don’t know how many old-fashioned space art painters there still are. Many professional illustrations are now done digitally, moving away from the fine-art world, which never cared much about space art anyway.
Katy: As far as a world of astronomy art bloggers, I have missed it too if
there is one. I know of only a few astro-artists to begin with, and
hardly any who are actually involved in blogging/twitter/google+.
Lucy: I’m not sure why there are not many space artist bloggers out there. There does seem to be plenty of people interested in space art. I think maybe space artists think they should know about astronomy and space and actually write about it, which can get complex! I don’t think blogging has to be like that, I think its a personal thing. A beautiful painting speaks volumes.
Glendon: Jon’s right: many artists are working digitally now, but most of the space environments you see now are on excellent concept art sites for science fiction, sites like ImagineFX, ConceptArt.org and groups like Space-Club on deviantArt. And you would think digital artists would have an easier time blogging about cosmic and astronomy art than traditional artists. Saving a file is quicker than taking a photo and tweaking it.
Lucy and Katy update regularly,and Jon has done some guest blog posts in the past- so why do you enjoy about blogging your art and art process? What appeals to you?
Lucy: I enjoy blogging about my paintings because it is a personal medium for me to use on the internet. I like the fact I can use my blog as I please, I can share my paintings if I wish and its interesting to see how people have come to find my painting. Everything about blogging appeals to me because a blog can be whatever the blogger wants it to be!
Katy: Eventually, I’d love to be one of those people that makes conceptual
images for articles and “science outreach” materials. For now, I’m
experimenting with watercolors and astronomy art. Until I started my
Painting through the Universe project, I had no experience with
astronomy art at all. I’ve always loved space though and one day it
hit me that I should try painting planets and stars! I’ve really
enjoyed branching out from my biological illustration roots. That’s
not to say I don’t enjoy biological illustration, but changing things
up a bit keeps life more interesting. Any excuse to spend more time
researching and looking at pictures of celestial bodies is good enough
for me. :)
Glendon: Jon hasn’t mentioned it, but no one should miss his guest blog post on 10 Days of Science about being the artist who has sent human artwork into space on the Voyager probes, and more recently, to Mars!
What sort of challenges are there painting space and astronomical objects?
Katy: It seems odd to me that there is such a lack of astro-artists compared to
paleo-artists. In my mind, both fields deal with some of the same
limitations. Like you guys mentioned in one of your other Symbiartic
posts, dino-artists have to create images of extinct things. They
create these beautiful images without actual intact specimens or even
photographs of the creatures they’re depicting (I have such an
admiration for dino-artists). With a lot of astro-art, though I
haven’t done much of this type of work myself (yet), it’s a similar
situation. The astro-art I enjoy the most are the “artist”s
conception” images of theoretical astronomical bodies and the “what it
looks like on X” images. To me, this is similar to dino-art: a lack of
visual source material and extrapolating data into images.
Jon: Half the things you want to paint are too bright to look at, the other half are too faint to see. Hubble has knowingly misled most people into thinking space is full of bright psychedelic colors. Then they’re disappointed when they look through telescopes.
Lucy: A lot of my work is based on Hubble images which is why on my blog I don’t write about the painting, I hope that seeing my painting inspires people to actually find out about it, I think actually finding out about something for yourself and doing the research helps to make it stick in your mind! If someone asked though, of course I’d write about it.
I think the challenges I have found with astronomical art is making it look like the real image and not going off on a tangent half way through! I always dislike my paintings about half way through and always consider changing it into somthing else! Keeping focused on what I wanted in the first place is always a challenge for me, by the time I have almost finished I am usually happy. I haven’t really tried any fantasy space art yet, so that would also be a challenge for me. My art has also led me into doing a course on astronomy which has been very challenging!
Glendon: Lucy, I feel your pain about the “halfway-through” problem. For a long time on my art blog I’ve referred to that as The Ugly Phase. Another problem that I’ve always found with scenes in space, or even earthly landscapes is the focal point. I like to anthopomorphize things, create allegories which is different than what each of you have done for space paintings. My one foray into that world, I tried to put a face on the Martian Mother Nature on Mars in Mother Mars (below). Relating to faces is easier to me – I wonder if other artists shy away from the landscape nature of space painting?
Lucy: I would like to see more space art blogs, traditional art not digital. Although digital space art Is fantastic and very impressive I feel traditional space art paintings are becoming rarer and thats a shame. I’m a member of The International Association of Astronomical Artists where you will find some of the best Space Art.
Will excitement from exoplanet discoveries fuel a drive in space artists blogging their artwork? Or will the end of the shuttle program further the antipathy toward space in culture? What do Symbiartic readers think?
Find out more about the artists featured in this post. Comment on their blogs or email them. Contact them regarding prints and original artwork for sale.
Katy Ann Chalmers:
Jon also penned “The Visual Presentation of Science” in the book Carl Sagan’s Universe (Cambridge University Press)
Publish the space-art book “The Beauty of Space” - Kickstarter project, check it out!
Edit: here’s even more links! Space art bloggers: feel free to announce yourselves in the comments!
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX