The Accretionary Wedge #10: Geology in Art


The June 2008 edition of The Accretionary Wedge geoscience blog carnival was hosted by Geological Musings in the Taconic Mountains. Check it out.


Johan Christian Claussen Dahl: Outbreak of the Vesuvius (1826)

Well, depending on your geographic location, you have may have been experiencing similar thunderstorms as those blanketing Vermont – so I’ve stayed away from the computer until it seemed safe again! We had a great turnout and I’m thrilled to write up this summary.

I think a lot of scientists live with the dogma that they aren’t necessarily artistic or creative (i.e. – the whole left versus right brain argument). But geology is a science driven in many cases solely by imagination and creativity, which then leads to an artistic representation or recreation of a time we’ll never visit, a place we’ll never see with our own eyes, or an organism that was only partially preserved. Not only do I believe our science riddled with aesthetic values, but as your submissions indicate, many geologists also yearn to see our science within ‘traditional’ art, literature, music, etc.

Within the genre of paintings/sketches, Hypocentre offers an abstract representation of the Law of Cross-Cutting relationships from Glen Tilt painted by John Clerk for James Hutton, David over at Cryology and Co. provides a link to a fascinating sequence of glacial landscapes and a discussion on the climatic inferences one can make from historical paintings, Silver Fox describes a beautiful McLure’s Magazine cover meant to illicit and capture the life of early prospecting in Montana, Tuff Cookie posted both paintings and photos while discussing the early expedition into Yellowstone and the significance of Thomas Moran’s work in preserving this region (for past and future field camp visits?), Kim offers up a double dose of art with a Chinese painting and poem, one which I think all of us can identify with, EffJot posted a beautiful cross-section, complete with historical context, which is housed in the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Resources – I wish I had the pleasure of walking by that one every day, and Dr. Ralph Harrington writes with exceptional talent describing Sir William Hamilton’s “Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanos of the Two Sicilies” and provides a few beautiful examples from this monograph. If I remember correctly, Hamilton is the guy who carried all sorts of materials and objects up Vesuvius to throw into the lava streams just to see “what would happen” – but I might be mistaken. And finally, albeit belatedly, Chris reminds us all that geologic maps are not only informative and fun to make, but art themselves. My undergraduate structure professor once told me that when making your map, if you’re confused about the geology in an area to “color it beautifully” to make up for that fact… This was tongue in cheek of course, but a reference to the aesthetics one should consider in mapping!

Within the genre of geologic materials, Andrew asks us to keep an eye out for anthropomorphic features in outcrop – clearly a fan of The Old Man in the Mountain, Coconino explores the link between geology and architecture in Los Angeles – and made me jealous with her choice in countertops, similarly the Lost Geologist gives us an e-walking-tour exploring Berlin’s building/carving stone origins – this seems to be a topic that is ripe for exploration in almost any city, perhaps the online geocommunity needs to provide such a service for the world? An online repository of virtual building/carving stone tours?

Within the genre of the written, the read, and the sung – Geotripper revels us with a short rendition of Landslide (anyone else care to “chime” in on their favorite geo-song), Harmonic Tremors describes a fascinating relationship between geologic processes, culture, and Javanese music, goodSchist posts a beautifully chilling Maori legend surrounding Mount Taranaki (and manages to sneak the word Emo into the post) and also provides a link to a recent discussion that might be of interest, and finally Brian posts yet another geo-relevant song – Rift by Phish – which conjures up images of topography and should metaphorically elicit a response from any geologist!

It’s a small n I know, but it seems as though geologists are still drawn to the visual – the paintings and sketches that we can interpret through ‘scientific’ eyes. The paintings of Moran, Cole, Turner, Brueghel, Friedrich, Church, etc., are easily appreciated and interpreted by our well-trained eyes. It was a real treat to see where people took this Wedge and I look forward to future posts on the topic, whether individual or whether we choose to tackle a more specific genre (e.g. – geology in music). Finally, there are some wonderful books out there that provide more information on this alternative perspective of our science: Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology, Bedrock: Writers on the Wonder of Geology, and a new release I just saw in GSAToday is Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. Thanks, this was a blast and very informative!

4 Responses to “The Accretionary Wedge #10: Geology in Art”

  1. GeologyJoe Says:

    Interesting. Ya know I always considered my self reasonably good art drawing and painting. And when I began geology I found that talent translated to map building, interpretation, 3-D visualization of geologic structures and crystal shape, graphics etc. For me there was no better way to imprint my fossil identifications than to draw each trilobite (or whatever) in all its amazing detail.

    To this day my art ability helps me in my work. Art should be a 101 to all geology students.

  2. Marlene Affeld Says:

    Marlene Affeld…

  3. my blog Says:

    check this out…

    this is mine…

  4. Andrew Says:

    With sunsetting my blog, I’d like to repost my entry here:

    Although I write about Earth from the geologist’s side, I’ve never said that geologists have the One Best viewpoint. Builders, miners and children at the beach have prior claims on the landscape; artists and visionaries do too. Earth scientists benefit from hearing the testimony of these others, just as (we hope) others will gain by learning some of what geologists know. At the very least, the naive question of a nongeologist can set the scientist’s mind off on a novel trail. When we friends of geology are open to the concerns and pleasures of the public, we gain by learning what the public wants. From that knowledge, we can win allies in our own quests.

    One viewpoint on Earth that has priority over geology is the basic human instinct to detect faces. From this instinct inevitably arises a universal capacity to assign personality to the nonhuman world. My theory is that this inborn tendency is part of what gives rise to animistic religions, sacred places and, early in the last century, a fad for stone faces great and small. Maybe the collapse of New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountains five years ago marked the last vestige of that old secular fad. But stone faces have been rediscovered by Randy and Judy Brown in their Colorado countryside. Randy recently blogged, “We had always enjoyed the beauty all around us. When we started to see the faces in the rock formations it caused us to slow down even more. We would be so taken in by the rocks surrounding us, time seemed to go away. It is a feeling like no other.”

    Geologists, watch out for those faces. Spare them from your hammers. Who is to say that the messages geologists see in the rocks, however informed they are by training and insight, have more human validity?

    See more on Earth and the arts

    This is part of Accretionary Wedge #10
    Photo courtesy Judy Brown

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