Tagged: Art Works for Change

Biomimicry and the Arrival of Neo-Art Nouveau


Alphonse Mucha’s Four Seasons

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for checking out our blog! My name is Derek Miller, and I’m going to be working with the MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland on integrating biomimicry into education. This is my first post here, and I’m excited to be a part of this amazing group! My interests revolve around biology, as well as the arts, so it’s my goal to add a designer and artist’s perspective on biomimicry. If you wish to know more about me, feel free to check out my Contributor Bios page.


Figure 1

Art, in a very broad perspective, is a type of reaction to the human experience, both of the artist and ultimately of all mankind. The artist interprets the things he/she has discovered and experienced, and puts them in a different form. Through this process, the natural world provides a great source of inspiration and the most abundant collection of reference material. Some of the oldest art in cave paintings is drawn as a response the world around us, so it’s no surprise that discoveries in science have played a major role in the subject matter of many art styles. One of the most prominent of these styles is that of Art Nouveau, dating from around 1890-1910. First landing major recognition at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, this versatile style called out to many forms of media from architecture and sculpture to painting and decorative arts. Ornamental pattern played a significant role in Art Nouveau design, drawing from biological forms in microscopy and botany. Other sciences that influenced Art Nouveau included neurology, zoology, psychology, and the theory of evolution, along with many other scientific breakthroughs within the 19th century. One of such is the revolutionary breakthrough made by Louis Pasteur in 1860 when he observed that microorganisms were the cause of infectious diseases. This new technology led to the establishment of cell theory. This theory, introduced by German scientists, Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann between 1838-1839, stated that all organic life was made up of the same basic unit, giving all living things a degree of connectedness that became a major theme within the Art Nouveau philosophy. Use of the microscope, a new way to look at the world, allowed artists to create abstract interpretations of microscopic forms such as cells, bacteria, and so on. An example of this can be found in the work of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). Haeckel was a zoologist that reported the findings of the Challenger Expedition (1873-1876), and is well known for his stylistic illustrations of the single-cell species of protozoa called Radiolaria. An example of this can be seen in Figure 1. Unfortunately, though well received by the public and the Art Nouveau movement, Haeckel was oftentimes ridiculed by the scientific community for his artistic freedom with his illustrations. Continue reading

Nature’s Toolbox Exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum

Daphne and I road tripped to Chicago this past weekend.  By the end of the six hour drive we were a bit loopy, entertaining ourselves with a google search of “fun riddles.”  Considering English is Daphne’s third language after Dutch and French, I was astounded by how quickly she solved all of the wordplay riddles I threw at her.

Fittingly, she didn’t skip a beat on this knee-slapping series:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.

It’s true, I’m the only American in this first cohort of Biomimicry PhD students, and definitely the linguistic underachiever of the group. Bill speaks Mandarin Chinese in addition to English, and even translated a TEDTalk given by Janine Benyus on Biomimicry into Traditional Chinese on TED.com to expand access to this exciting discipline.

Anyway – back to our trip to Chicago! On October 20th Daphne and I visited Chicago’s Field Museum to check out a temporary exhibit called Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art, and Invention presented by Art Works for Change.  There were some very interesting pieces.  My favorite was an experimental short by Catherine Chalmers titled Safari.  I like how she played with scale, helping us see the world of insects in a whole new way.

It reminded me of the work of Ann Hamilton, an acclaimed visual artist who visited UAkron earlier this fall to discuss her vision.

I think film would be an appropriate media to document the behaviors of some of the lab creatures here on the UAkron campus.  Perhaps we could do some close-up video of the many spider species in Todd Blackledge’s lab or the geckos in Peter Niewiarowski’s lab

Sucrose walls at Nature’s Toolbox Exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum

Sucrose Wall – Nature’s Toolbox Exhibit