The Art in Science

Last month, the Wellcome Trust announced the winners of their Imaging Awards. There are some real stunning images in the collection, I never cease to be amazed at the incomprehensible complexity of microscopic things. I thought as someone who is trying to blog about both science and art, this would make a great post for myself. If you haven’t seen the images, there is a little article on the BBC website with a great commentary from the Head of Wellcome Images.

Well, it was great except for one thing that bugged me. At one point, she makes great effort to stress that these images are not art, that they are research images. And I can kind of understand what she means, these images were not created with the intent of being aesthetically pleasing, they are meant to be clear and informative. But I think she might be selling these images short.

There’s a tree I cycle past every day on my way home. For the most part, it’s just a tree, and if I were to take a photo of it, it wouldn’t be particularly interesting. But at the end of the day, just as the sun is setting, this tree becomes a silhouette against the pale blue-green sky. The branches of this tree all curve upwards, and look like cusped hands with long fingers. And at this time of the year, each branch has a large, single bud on the top, so each branch looks like it has a little candle on it. It’s beautiful. It would make an amazing photograph, or painting. It’s all about how you capture the object, and portray it to another viewer. That is precisely what these images do, take subjects that in themselves might not be interesting, but show them to you in a way that is. A seedling or a cell would normally not make for a riveting picture, but…

One of the winners of the Wellcome Imaging Awards

… capturing the moment a cell is dividing, a seedling starts to grow, is amazing. This image has managed to portray one of the very properties that makes something alive. It’s not only a striking image, but it makes you wonder at the complexity of living systems. Sure, the original reason to take the image was to demonstrate a process, but that doesn’t mean the resulting image doesn’t become a piece of art.

True colour image of a ruby wasp

This collection of images shows us our world in a way we may not have seen it before. And that’s what art is; seeing the world the way someone else sees it, and changing the way we look at things. I think to highlight the beauty in life, and the way in which it works, is definitely a worthwhile cause, and I really can’t wait to see what next year’s collection brings.


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