The Last Great Scientists/Artists Lived During The Renaissance
Posted: 05 May 2012 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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During the Renaissance great scientists could also be great artists. Michelangelo, for instance, not only produced great paintings, frescoes and statues but he also dissected cadavers, designed architecture for which St. Peter’s Basilica dome was one example. Leonardo da Vinci also sketched designs that were scientific and ahead of his time while still producing great works of art.

No scientist since then comes close to the Renaissance man. How come?

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Posted: 05 May 2012 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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First, could that question be modified as follows:  “No artist since then comes close to the Renaissance [person]. How come?”

I can’t respond within the framework of an artist, but one of the problems may be that the complexity of the sciences advanced very rapidly since then.  Elementary school students begin learning a wide variety of subjects, art, literature, science, music, etc., but fairly quickly we have to specialize and focus on one field.  I was strongly interested in how things worked (the sciences) and especially chemistry from my earliest memories and, since I was always a fairly out-of-the-box kid, had I been living in prehistoric times, would probably have made some valuable discoveries.  However, all of these simplistic things had already been discovered and brought into our general knowledge.  By the time I was at university it was almost cheating for me to take art, music and literature courses because I was so busy trying to learn the vast amount of information that had been developed in chemistry, math, and physics.  I didn’t even take my first philosophy course until I was close to fifty.

I’m guessing that a great many scientists (and probably graphic artists, musicians, writers, etc.) are renaissance people, but just so specialized that we don’t recognize the level of their abilities.

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Posted: 05 May 2012 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think it’s basically anachronistic to call anyone pre-19th c. a “scientist” (though we know what one means by the term). They were more accurately termed “natural philosophers”, which is an indication about the kind of program they saw themselves engaged in. Nowadays, as Occam says, the sciences are way too specialized, and involve too much dedication, for anyone to have a significant career as both scientist and artist.

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Posted: 05 May 2012 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I think you guys have pretty much summed up the problem. There’s just too much to know in any field today to be truly great at more than one. That being said there are a lot of very respectable scientists today who also are reasonably accomplished artists.

Look here: http://io9.com/5810217/10-scientist-rock-stars

and here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-with-moxie/2011/10/04/congratulations-to-saul-perlmutter/

You could make an argument that they are Renaissance men and women. Leonardo da Vinci certainly was imaginative but he really didn’t contribute much to the field of science in any substantive way. In the way that some of todays scientists are good but not great artists, da Vinci was only a mediocre engineer/scientist.

A talent for science and math often leads to interests in the arts as well. While I am in no way a great contributor to science or art I do participate in both as a physician and a semiprofessional photographer. I do a niche form of macro photography ( water droplets) and in the process of networking with other photographer I have met other scientists and physicians who produce some amazing artwork including an anesthesiologist form CT who does astrophotography of deep sky objects and a pulmonologist in my own town who is an award winning water color painter. Clearly none of them are on the level of da Vinci but lots of bright minds seem to seek creative outlets in both the sciences and the arts simulateously.

Michael_Melgar_LiquidArt_resize_droplet.jpg

[ Edited: 05 May 2012 12:33 PM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 05 May 2012 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Nice photo, Macgyver.  I know it’s silly, but when I see something like that I like to flex my mind such that I “see” it as the droplets being pulled from the water surface by gravity above the water.  tongue rolleye

Interesting exercise in thinking outside our present physical world rules. smile 

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Posted: 05 May 2012 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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TenFold - 05 May 2012 06:26 AM

During the Renaissance great scientists could also be great artists. Michelangelo, for instance, not only produced great paintings, frescoes and statues but he also dissected cadavers, designed architecture for which St. Peter’s Basilica dome was one example. Leonardo da Vinci also sketched designs that were scientific and ahead of his time while still producing great works of art.

No scientist since then comes close to the Renaissance man. How come?

Did they have to spend years in school maintaining a high Grade Point Average in subjects they were not interested in?

Is our educational system really designed to produce conformists.  Einstein complained about German schools.

But of course there are lots more details to learn about everything than there were then.

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Posted: 05 May 2012 08:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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macgyver - 05 May 2012 12:28 PM

Leonardo da Vinci certainly was imaginative but he really didn’t contribute much to the field of science in any substantive way. In the way that some of today’s scientists are good but not great artists, da Vinci was only a mediocre engineer/scientist.

[smacked over da head smilie]
I guess I can see what you mean about da Vinci not being so much a scientist, but “mediocre engineer”?  gulp
Didn’t contribute much substantively?

Sort of a head turner,
mind you I don’t pretend to have much more than a casual familiarity with his life and works… but them’s seem like mighty harsh words.


Anyone out there willing to step-in as a champion for Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci?    cheese

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Posted: 06 May 2012 12:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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dougsmith - 05 May 2012 11:22 AM

I think it’s basically anachronistic to call anyone pre-19th c. a “scientist” (though we know what one means by the term). They were more accurately termed “natural philosophers”, which is an indication about the kind of program they saw themselves engaged in. Nowadays, as Occam says, the sciences are way too specialized, and involve too much dedication, for anyone to have a significant career as both scientist and artist.

Except, well, Isaac Asimov. Carl Sagan. Alexandre Borodin. Samuel Morse. Amongst a select few.

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Posted: 06 May 2012 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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citizenschallenge.pm - 05 May 2012 08:03 PM
macgyver - 05 May 2012 12:28 PM

Leonardo da Vinci certainly was imaginative but he really didn’t contribute much to the field of science in any substantive way. In the way that some of today’s scientists are good but not great artists, da Vinci was only a mediocre engineer/scientist.

[smacked over da head smilie]
I guess I can see what you mean about da Vinci not being so much a scientist, but “mediocre engineer”?  gulp
Didn’t contribute much substantively?

Sort of a head turner,
mind you I don’t pretend to have much more than a casual familiarity with his life and works… but them’s seem like mighty harsh words.


Anyone out there willing to step-in as a champion for Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci?    cheese

Leonardo da Vinci was more of a dreamer than an engineer. Few of his designs would have actually worked if built and some would have actually gotten the user killed ( see his flying machines) if they were. None were ever more than sketches and drawings during his lifetime as far as I know. He never seemed to have enough interest to try and actually get anything built the way a real engineer/inventor/scientist would have. As such none of his ideas really contributed anything to the technological advancement of the human race except maybe as inspiration a la Jules Verne. It might be more accurate to view him as an illustrator of science fiction than a man of science.

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Posted: 06 May 2012 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 06 May 2012 12:00 AM
dougsmith - 05 May 2012 11:22 AM

I think it’s basically anachronistic to call anyone pre-19th c. a “scientist” (though we know what one means by the term). They were more accurately termed “natural philosophers”, which is an indication about the kind of program they saw themselves engaged in. Nowadays, as Occam says, the sciences are way too specialized, and involve too much dedication, for anyone to have a significant career as both scientist and artist.

Except, well, Isaac Asimov. Carl Sagan. Alexandre Borodin. Samuel Morse. Amongst a select few.

I wouldn’t argue that Sagan or Morse were artists. I also wouldn’t argue that Asimov was (much of) a scientist. Not sure about Borodin but I’m assuming he’s in Asimov’s camp on that one.

One can have a scientific background and spend one’s time making art. But that’s sort of a different claim.

I suppose this highlights another difference between today and the Renaissance: during the Renaissance it was enough to be considered a notable natural philosopher if you basically did anything at all in natural philosophy. Presumably that’s because there were so few natural philosophers back then. Nowadays there are tens of thousands of scientists, so the criteria have changed somewhat.

I do agree that if you use the more lax criteria of the Renaissance then you would find plenty of people who’ve mixed careers. (There are many SF writers with scientific backgrounds, that’s for sure. Two other ones include Arthur C. Clarke and Alastair Reynolds).

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Posted: 06 May 2012 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Plus it’s impossible to replicate the careers of those Renaissance artisans (lumping everything they did into one word). First of all, time to them meant little, the clock only had one hand then, and they were free to work at will. The only time constraint they had was that their patron wanted to see their finished work before they croked. And speaking of… Many of them had patrons who paid for them to paint, invent etc so they had the time and the financial backing a la Michelanglo to explore learning and art at will. OTOH our clocks now measure the microsecond and most of us are locked into cubicals of time. We hurry through college or tech school only to have a career that hopefully pays for the student loans we are now indebted to up to our eyes. Few, except the idle rich have the time to pursue all of the fields that Renaissance “person” dabbled in and we can only envy that time period. Except the plague, constant wars (michelangelo had to deal with that), bad water and food and shortened life span. And yes, we have genius in this time period who ply their favorite profession while using art, music, crafts etc. to allow our talents to help define us, but one can only have one full time career in this life, unless you leave one for another… Or retire from one and then go on as some here probably have. And Macguyver that photo is fantastic!

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Posted: 06 May 2012 08:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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dougsmith - 06 May 2012 04:50 AM
TromboneAndrew - 06 May 2012 12:00 AM
dougsmith - 05 May 2012 11:22 AM

I think it’s basically anachronistic to call anyone pre-19th c. a “scientist” (though we know what one means by the term). They were more accurately termed “natural philosophers”, which is an indication about the kind of program they saw themselves engaged in. Nowadays, as Occam says, the sciences are way too specialized, and involve too much dedication, for anyone to have a significant career as both scientist and artist.

Except, well, Isaac Asimov. Carl Sagan. Alexandre Borodin. Samuel Morse. Amongst a select few.

I wouldn’t argue that Sagan or Morse were artists.

I would. It takes a lot of artistry to write effectively, even if you’re writing non-fiction.

Also, Samuel Morse was a very accomplished painter before his work on the telegraph.

Also, a nitpick with definitions: a renaissance man is not specifically someone who is a scientist/naturalist and an artist. It is a bit more general: someone who attains very high degrees of proficiency across multiple disciplines. Thomas Jefferson, for examples, was such, for his abilities at architecture, philosophy, and political acumen.

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Posted: 15 May 2012 07:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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TenFold - 05 May 2012 06:26 AM

During the Renaissance great scientists could also be great artists. Michelangelo, for instance, not only produced great paintings, frescoes and statues but he also dissected cadavers, designed architecture for which St. Peter’s Basilica dome was one example. Leonardo da Vinci also sketched designs that were scientific and ahead of his time while still producing great works of art.

No scientist since then comes close to the Renaissance man. How come?

It is very difficult is probably why.
Brian May, guitarist/song writer/ and sometimes singer for the band Queen, is a PhD astrophysicist.
They don’t just hand those types of degrees out…so that would be 1.
Most performers, I would guess, become completely caught up with the trappings of their art now-a-days, to be bothered by anything scientific. Some (Les Paul for instance) only get far enough into the science that impinges on their craft, to make changes/improvements to what they are trying to do.
To be expert at one specialty requires years of study and practice. To do that in more than one area of study would be doubly difficult. I would suggest that most people that have the wherewithal to get there once might be inclined to focus on that area. And keep in mind that most of the general population doesn’t even have that.

just my .02

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_May#Astrophysics

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Posted: 16 May 2012 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Let’s also not forget that most “great” art, and much important science, are not judged to be great and important until the scientist/artist is long gone. Since, as Doug points out, science as understood today is a relatively young endeavor, perhaps there are/have been great scientists whoa re also going to be judged by history as artists, we just don’t know about them

Personally, I find multitalented people that make me feel inadequate all the time! grin Atul Gawande, for example, is an outstanding surgeon, a prolific author who has been shortlisted for a National Book Award, a former health policy advisor to Pres. Clinton, and (as far as I know) a happily married family man. Hell of a set of achievements in a variety of disciplines, if you ask me. So I’m not sure we can truly say that talent and achievement in both science and the arts aren’t still possible to the degree seen in the past.

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Posted: 17 May 2012 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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macgyver - 05 May 2012 12:28 PM

I think you guys have pretty much summed up the problem. There’s just too much to know in any field today to be truly great at more than one. That being said there are a lot of very respectable scientists today who also are reasonably accomplished artists.

Look here: http://io9.com/5810217/10-scientist-rock-stars

and here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-with-moxie/2011/10/04/congratulations-to-saul-perlmutter/

You could make an argument that they are Renaissance men and women. Leonardo da Vinci certainly was imaginative but he really didn’t contribute much to the field of science in any substantive way. In the way that some of todays scientists are good but not great artists, da Vinci was only a mediocre engineer/scientist.

A talent for science and math often leads to interests in the arts as well. While I am in no way a great contributor to science or art I do participate in both as a physician and a semiprofessional photographer. I do a niche form of macro photography ( water droplets) and in the process of networking with other photographer I have met other scientists and physicians who produce some amazing artwork including an anesthesiologist form CT who does astrophotography of deep sky objects and a pulmonologist in my own town who is an award winning water color painter. Clearly none of them are on the level of da Vinci but lots of bright minds seem to seek creative outlets in both the sciences and the arts simulateously.

Michael_Melgar_LiquidArt_resize_droplet.jpg

That picture is beautiful.  The color makes my eyes feel good.  The form makes my head feel good.

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Posted: 17 May 2012 04:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Thanks. Glad you liked it. If you want to see more from the same series you can go to my website at http://www.liquidartgallery.com. Click on the picture on the right wall of the gallery and you can see three more from the same series. Feel free to look around while you’re there. Enjoy grin

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