Art or Science? Sci-art & Visual Botany

Posted on January 14, 2015 by Niki under Uncategorized
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Art Plantae sliver 26jun11
© Niki Simpson

Botanical art in general is said to straddle the supposed art-science divide. From the early herbals right through to today’s scientific floras, artists have worked with botanists to create accurate, detailed and often beautiful illustrations to support their scientific texts.

For me though, there is no division, simply a continuum of everything. I aim to bring together disciplines and work across transitions, whether art and science, art and illustration or illustration and photography, as well as science and design. On the one hand I create attractive images concerned with the beauty of plants. I have a special interest in composition, notably in creating a flow through the image, while as a scientist, the primary aim of my images is not beauty, but information content – to convey to the viewer a scientific visual description of the plant concerned. For this I use a longstanding botanical language, involving conventions and signs, to clearly depict the plant’s features, show hidden parts otherwise not readily seen, and emphasise the significant. I need, not only to create a visual flow through the image, but to create one that is botanically logical and appropriate. As I wrote in 2010 in my artist’s statement for the Riverside Gallery, “There is no place in my scientific botanical illustrations for obscuring shadows, or for the charm of old paintings; no aim for a ‘look’ or a ‘mood’, or even the ‘essence’ of a plant – just what is, or importantly for comparative work, what isn’t. My focus is on detail and accuracy; no fudging, fading or false colour, and, ultimately, for the botanical truth.”

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