Art for April 16

B1979'28, 6/13/02, 11:12 PM,  8C, 7266x12000 (774+0), 150%, Repro 1.8,  1/20 s, R82.2, G46.4, B53.1
The Icebergs
by Frederic Edwin Church, 1861
click on the picture to enlarge it to full screen

Bob Pelfrey writes,

Frederick Edwin Church’s painting The Icebergs (above) illustrates several points about the intimate – almost structural – relationship between art and science (and in terms of the still widely held ‘natural theology’ approach in theology) at the time of Darwin’s publication of Origin.

Briefly, scientists of the time not only depended on artists – as they had since Leonardo’s time – for illustrations of any kind of visual phenomena; scientists often were artists themselves, especially in fields related to biology and geology. Until Darwin’s time, only hand-drawn images of any kind had existed.

As noted in our discussion this morning, Church was highly regarded and appreciated by geologists as a ‘scientific’ colleague. In the next two generations, photography would (first slowly, then with incredible speed) change this… to the point that today virtually all scientific ‘images’ are in some form of digital/photographic format.

Art, in this sense, is now marginal to science as such. Not so in Darwin’s time.


Bob also writes re: Darwin’s ‘transgressiveness’:

The Icebergs also shows the deep public expectation (including many scientists, as Elizabeth Johnson points out) that the more ‘scientific’ a painting of Nature was, the more it should reflect God’s implicit Truth (order/design), Goodness (morality/meaning) and Beauty (sublimity).

This is the area where Darwin, with absolutely no malice, was ‘transgressive’ to the world-picture of his day.  Instead of ‘God’ explaining order/meaning/sublimity…’chance’ and ‘natural selection’ were sufficient causes.  This was a very distressing and dis-crediting jolt to the traditional paradigm, a paradigm that goes back in the Christian tradition to the book of Genesis.

‘Transgressiveness, however, is not necessarily a negative term.  If the affront, shall we say, is ‘processed’ (as in American racists who ‘saw the light’ and changed their attitudes due to Martin Luther King’s work and preaching), ‘transgressiveness’ can alter one’s worldview, morality, mindset, etc. in a positive and even transformative way.

Which is what Elizabeth Johnson is trying to do with “Darwin” vis a vis Christianity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *