Art Spreading the Beautiful Seed of Knowledge
Move your eyes away from the screen and focus on your hands. Look again, you might thing you know, quite literally, the back of your hands: but are you really aware of what you are staring at?
The idea that behind this seemingly visible world — that is merely a human concept — unravels a more intricate reality, is revolutionary.
It is hard — even for present-day people like us, bombarded with scientific facts — to look beyond the immediate concept of “hands”. We see them all the time, these perfect tools at our command, but it takes a paper cut to suddenly remember the world of cells and tissue, tendons and bones that lay behind our everyday image. On a deeper layer of awareness stands molecules, atoms, electrons, quarks…
The idea that behind this seemingly visible world, that is merely a human concept, unravels a more intricate absolute reality, is revolutionary. Here rises the origin of Philosophy.
Thales of Miletus is the father of philosophy whose birthday we should celebrate on a scale bigger than Christmas. If ancient Greece developed politics based on empirical though and discussion, leading to Democracy; if naturalists developed the scientific enquiry that lead us to Medicine and Physics, it is because once, long ago, Thales wondered if everything was really originated by a single substance — Water, that was the basis of Thales’ theory. Everything was on its indivisible core water, that rearranged was the building block of the universe — sure, his assumption was wrong, but his persistence to explain the natural world based on phenomena, by presenting theories and ignoring supernatural explanations, was his gift to humanity: empiricism.
Curiously, it was a Water based solution that helped to spread the seeds of knowledge. Ancient Egyptians used it to illustrate their “Book of the Dead”, but the story of Watercolours as a knowledge medium begin with the Renaissance.
Botanical and scientific artists, much like map drawers, have worked on exact Watercolour pieces to describe nature’s physical traits. Alexander Marshal, for example, was a self taught drawer fascinated with the unknown species of the new world; and Leonhart Fuchs, creator of the first medical garden, would draw in great detail his plants, while pondering on their properties — which was specially important for the research and development of medical drugs. Fuchs had such an impact that a color was named after him: a purple like tone named fuchsia.
Dürer was probably the biggest booster of the northern renaissance, and an early watercolours enthusiast. The lines and forms of the physical world fascinated him. By developing mathematical principles, perspective essays and theoretical treaties on ideal proportions, Dürer enhanced his pieces by adding to the painting the results of his studies: both in physiognomy, measurements and architecture.
Although his main concern was to reach painting perfection, Dürer had a deep care for knowledge. Thus publishing more pragmatic studies, like a 1527 paper on the fortification of cities and castles. The beetle above is one of his many scientific watercolours.
He might never have a colour named after him, but Dürer’s name was given, in geometry, to the first of an infinite series of truncated trapezohedrons: the “truncated triangular trapezohedron”, or “Dürer’s solid”. The graph formed by its edges and vertices is also named after the painter.
Another famous set of forms are the “Platonic Solids”. Plato believed that these forms corresponded to four elements — air was the octahedron, fire the tetrahedron, water the icosahedron and Earth the cube. These simple elements, when combined, made up all mater. For Democritus the universe’s composition had nothing to do with Thales’ water nor basic elements. He believed that “Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion”.
Humanity is still to develop a technology as resistant, meticulous, self regenerative, complex and precise as your own hands, but if you can look at the phone they are holding, it is because of the progress made by sceptical, empirical, methodic and logical thinking. All the wonders of a legacy that began with a man’s vision of water, and many, many drawings collecting information by colouring it.
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