Friday, October 5, 2012

Illustrating Science

I just saw a preview for The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate the Wondrous Mysteries of the Universe (Chronicle Books, 2012) by Matt Lamote, Julia Rothman, and Jenny Volvovskim who collaborated with a collection of scientists who wrote essays on a series of questions of science and a collection of 75 artists and illustrators who illustrated each question. They specifically gave artists free reign to represent the science as literally or imaginatively as they desired. At left is a fairly literal illustration by Isaac Tobin relating to whether earthquakes are predictable.

Yelena Bryksenkova's illustration for "the peppered moth, which changed color over several generations in response to industrial pollution in london" in answer to the question of whether evolution can outpace climate change.

Matt Forsythe's illustration for the question, "If humans and chimps have nearly identical DNA, how can we be so different?"

Gilbert Ford's illustration for why people blush.

Lotta Nieminen's illustration of latitudinal patterns in species diversity.

JooHee Yoon's illustration for "why do we dream?"

I really like the idea of combining the reasonably strict "scientific illustration" shown on the cover with more artistic freedom (as long as it's clearly the goal, as it is here). Sometimes scientific illustration is less than true to the science not because it uses a metaphoric artistic language, but because there's been some sort of break down in communication; that of course, is not something I appreciate (except, occasionally, because it's funny). Often concepts in science cannot be illustrated in a literal way without highly technical diagrams and associated education to 'read' these diagrams. Occassionally scientists wax poetic in their language, to handle communicating the difficult-to-communicate. Rarely, are they afforded a chance to be figurative in their figures (or work with artists to do so). Between that and the line up of illustrators, I think I would like to get my hands on this book. After all, science, art and books are three of my favorite things.


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