At the natural history museum: the fine line between nature and art

I was this morning at the Naturkundemuseum in Berlin, and I admired once again the skull of the T-rex Tristan Otto. It was displayed under a set of lights that made a fascinating play of light and shadows on the dark fossilised bones.

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While I was drawing, many people of all ages ran to the display and stood in awe, observed it from different angles, took pictures, then moved forward for the visit. It is definitely a magnificient finding from a scientific viewpoint, as well as a visually appealing object. My mind first identified as a dinosaur skull, therefore as the remain of an animal who lived millions of years ago, when the Earth looked much different, there was no man, but the oceans and trees and reptiles and insects and all life, and the moon and sun above; but with time, while drawing, I started to see it as a sculpture, as a piece of art, as a monument to the exquisite art of chiseling, glorified by light – up to the extreme of flattening it onto paper, as an interesting set of shapes, lines, angles, proportions – abstract, essential, distilled.

These two viewpoints are valid for any other specimen in the exhibition, and for me, for everything I can see.  I sometimes stop and marvel over an accidental composition on my way home, or a ray of light. I went to the museum to see Tristan Otto, and I enjoyed the whole visit, but did I enjoy it only because it was carefully organised, cleverly connected, and artfully displayed, or because it had value in itself? Did I admire the most colourful animals because they are artistically pleasant? They did not come to life with the purpose to be ambassadors of the beauty of wildlife, but they can still be considered as such: through their beauty, they can awaken our admiration and make us want to protect them from threats and extinction. I feel a bit uneasy with this thought, however, because I’m afraid that what is not beautiful, or not attractively presented, does not get that much attention. I understand that attractive presentation is an essential feature of many human creations and activities, but I feel uneasy applying it to everything, especially to what has no power in improving its appearance.

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Cooking… and the universe

Wednesday has become the regular appointment with my “From the kitchen” posts. Today I have no recipe to share, or better, no good pictures of the recipes I wish to share (we were too fast eating them!).

I thought of what I could post about gastronomy… and remembered a quote of a Greek film where the uncle of the main character tells him that the word “gastronomy” includes the word “astronomy”… he showed him a connection between cooking and stars… I found it so inspiring that after 20 years I still remember it.

So here is my astronomy post, with my recent sources of information about the immense, black, mysterious universe around us.

First, ESA’s Picture of the Week that features breathtaking images such this one of NGC 278 in the constellation of Cassiopeia:

Then I present you the project GalaxyZoo, an online citizen science project, that offers everyone a simple tool to help classifying the immense number of galaxies detected by the world’s most powerful telescopes. Citizen science is a way of including non-specialists into actual science projects. I dislike how science is commonly left to specialists, when anyone with just a little patience, curiosity and love for precision can produce high-quality data for further analysis. This has been demonstrated by the many phases of GalaxyZoo, which allowed many scientists to publish papers based on these galaxy classification datasets; and by bird-watchers in many countries, who accurately recorded presence data on extensive areas, an effort that scientists could not imagine to attempt through regular sampling expeditions. It remembers me strongly of the collective mapping of OpenStreetMap. Of course a single contributor makes mistakes, but the strength of this model is in the many eyes that cross-check contributions and improve the dataset every day. And as a former (or dormant?) scientist myself, I know that specialists are not immune to errors either – and that’s why they resort to peer review and collaboration. See the timeline of ceratopsian research – even only the pictures – to see how many attempts were made, how many times some data have been reinterpreted, how many hypoteses have been remodeled and thrashed to come to our present understanding of these dinosaurs. But I am stuffing too many topics in this post! I will expand them in future posts.

Until then, I wish you all a relaxing and cheerful festive season, wherever you are all around the world!

 

 

Drawing streak – eleventh week

Here is the result of one more drawing week:

Day 71 I was feeling tired, but overall good, so I opted for a relaxed, somewhat tired sun.

Day 73 I used watercolours to paint a Protoceratops skull. I still have to learn how to apply more layers of watercolour without diluting the underlying layers, but first, I have to learn to let them dry completely 🙂

Day 74 was hatching day and I drew a horse, with the direction of hatches following muscles and overall body shapes. The right part of the drawing is not so accurate, but  I lost patience at some point.

Day 75 I scribbled with a ballpoint pen, using my coat as subject. The result is not so impressive still.

Day 76 is a simple horse coloured with felt pens. To make it a bit challenging I tried an unusual perspective, and I am quite happy for it!

Day 77 is a sole fish. We ate a lot of fish that day, including very delicate and tasty soles.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Tyrannosaurus rex “Tristan Otto”

Tyrannosaurus rex: Tristan Otto

Yesterday I went to Berlin’s Museum for Natural History and admired both the expositions of the T-Rex Tristan Otto and of Spinosaurus. I took time to draw part of Tristan’s skull, that was wonderfully lighted; Spinosaurus was equally well displayed but I wasn’t able to find a good place to sit/stand for the time I needed to draw it.

I’m glad to have taken time to draw again, after many months; I plan to keep a more regular schedule and draw a little – more often. More to come on my Flickr page and here in the blog!