Saturday, July 04, 2009

Inspiration from Space

If you haven't been over to visit the NASA or Hubble Space Telescope sites lately, there's a plethora of beautiful images from space available. Many more images can be accessed at JPL's Planetary Photojournal and at the SOHO site, which features imagery of our Sun.

This is the wedding of science and art at its best. Digital photographs of space, of our solar system, of our Sun, or our galaxy, and of the rest of the Universe: these remind us how small we really are, how amazing and vast and beyond imagination the Universe is, in that it keeps surprising us. This imagery also demonstrates that studying science can include sublime beauty, that it is not all dry statistics and facts. There is great beauty to be found out there in the Universe, merely by looking beyond our parochial self-involvements and human self-obsessions.

I find myself turning to space for inspiration. I occasionally make art with the images available from these space science imagery sites. Incorporating a galaxy or nebula into a work of digital art I am making increases its scope, makes it both larger in scale, and also reminds me that the same patterns and forces that work on my life are universal, gigantic, cosmic. It's only a matter of scale.

And the beauty of this imagery evokes a spiritual response in me, as an artist. An aesthetic response is evoked, obviously, in my response to the sheer beauty of the imagery. The spiritual response comes from a sense of vast scale, of archetypal power, of astrophysical forces beyond my comprehension. I can cite the calculated numbers of stars in a spiral galaxy, or the power of light in the glowing jet being emitted from a black hole's accretion disc: but the numbers are so large, I can't really contain them.

I end up having to think fractally, using the principle of self-similarity on all scales. Nebulae look like clouds, like the branching waves of an ocean, or of the way blood moves in the branching veins of my flesh. The spiral galaxy displays the same proportional geometric whirl as an aloe plant, a pine cone, the center of a sunflower. The tides of the moon are the tides of a neutron star, bending and stretching all matter within gravitational reach.

And so I respond, in the end, in the way I know best, the way that might be able to contain the science within the beauty, the beauty of the science data: I make art. I make art from the beauty, I respond to Creation by making new creations, by co-creating. That's all I can do, with something so huge, so vast, so powerful, so far beyond this small body on a small planet in an ordinary galaxy spinning through distances and times that can only be contained by numbers so huge one might as well try to count individual raindrops in a Great Plains thunderstorm.

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