Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Darwin and the Arts

I came across this article on the NYTimes about a new exhibition entitled, "Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and Art." Now, I really wish fly to Yale to see these paintings. The impact Darwin had/has on literature is one of those small pockets of literary study that fascinate me. I like this passage in the article, which sort of succinctly summarizes Darwin's impact:

"The show claims to be exploring, for the first time, the impact of Darwin’s theories on the visual arts. With a few deft selections and explanations, French Impressionism is shown to have been under the influence. (Degas was fascinated by Darwin’s study comparing facial expressions of animals and humans.) So, too, were the aesthetic movements of the late 19th century, with their visions of feminine beauty. (Sexual selection was one of the themes Darwin turned to in exploring the power of plumage.)"

One particular artist I like who I would also like to think was impact by Darwin is Max Ernst. Surely Darwin's theory of evolution and animal life influenced some of Ernst's painting, which feature animals prominently.

For instance, "The Robing of the Bride" featured below. It is hard to see in the painting where animal begins and where human begins. The creatures/bodies/entities in the painting seem to be part animal and part human, suggesting some confluence between how we understand the different species. Now, I am not an art scholar by any means, but just viewing this painting makes think that Ernst is trying to point out some uncanny connection to birds and humans and its mythic overtones, especially since this painting has some sort of magisterial quality with the courtly imagery and title.

This other painting I found some time ago, and I have always tried to look at it because of my initial reaction, which was a cross between, "What is that?", and, "Amazing!" Entitled "Men Shall Know Nothing of This," this painting below makes me think of the relationship between living and non-living. With the machine images on top of the elephant-like creature and then the statue in the foreground, it seems like Ernst is suggesting that these non-living objects can be a burden to us. They can lay on top of us and in our path obstructing our movements.

Regardless of whether Ernst was really influenced by Darwin, I thought it would be interesting to share these paintings. I hope you enjoyed them!

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