Study: modern masters like Jackson Pollock were “intuitive physicists”

Art2 800x515Collective Suicide (1936), by Mexican muralist David A. Siqueiros, is an example of the “accidental painting” technique developed by the artist.

’In the 1930s, a small group of New York City artists began experimenting with novel painting techniques and materials, including Mexican muralist David A. Siqueiros and Jackson Pollock. For the last few years, a team of Mexican physicists has been studying the physics of fluids at work in those techniques, concluding that the artists were “intuitive physicists,” using science to create timeless art.

“One of the things I have come to realize is that painters have a deep understanding of fluid mechanics as they manipulate their materials,” said Roberto Zenit, a physicist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who is leading the research. “This is what fluid mechanicians do. The objective is different, but the manipulation of these materials that flow is the same. So it is not a surprise that fluid mechanics has a lot to say about how artists paint.”

Zenit is not the first physicist to be fascinated by Pollock’s work in particular. Back in 2001, for instance, physicist Richard Taylor found evidence of fractal patterns in Pollock’s seemingly random drip patterns. His hypothesis met with considerable controversy, both from art historians and a few fellow physicists. In a 2006 paper published in Nature, for instance, Case University physicists Katherine Jones-Smith and Harsh Mathur claimed Taylor’s work was “seriously flawed” and “lacked the range of scales needed to be considered fractal.” (To prove the point, Jones-Smith created her own version of a fractal painting—using Taylor’s criteria—in about five minutes using Photoshop.)

Then, in 2011, Boston College physicist Andrzej Herczynski^ and Harvard mathematician Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan collaborated with art historian Claude Cernuschi on an article for Physics Today examining Pollock’s use of a coiling instability in his paintings. It’s basically a mathematical description for how a viscous fluid folds onto itself like a coiling rope—just like pouring maple syrup on pancakes. The patterns that form depend on how thick the fluid is (its viscosity) and how fast it’s moving. Thick fluids form straight lines when being spread rapidly across a canvas, but will form loops and squiggles and figure eights if poured slowly.…’

Via Ars Technica

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