Humans, Nature, and Birds: Science Art from Cave Walls to Computer Screens.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Burtt, Edward H., Jr.
Pub Date: 12/01/2009
Publication: Name: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology Publisher: Wilson Ornithological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Wilson Ornithological Society ISSN: 1559-4491
Issue: Date: Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 121 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: Humans, Nature, and Birds: Science Art from Cave Walls to Computer Screens (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Wheye, Darryl; Kennedy, Donald
Accession Number: 216267567
Full Text: HUMANS, NATURE, AND BIRDS: SCIENCE ART FROM CAVE WALLS TO COMPUTER SCREENS. By Darryl Wheye and Donald Kennedy. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. 2008: xxvii + 199 pages and 69 plates. ISBN: 978-0-300-12388-3. $37.50 (cloth).--Birds are not the subject of this book. Science art is the subject. Wheye and Kennedy have produced an important book that uses artistic renderings of birds to illustrate the authors' unique perspective on the fusion of art and science. The colors, patterns, and vivacity of birds have attracted our attention since before history. Who among us has not watched a hawk soaring against a blue summer sky and not envied its power of flight? For millennia we have been fascinated with birds. Indeed, the abundance and diversity of images of birds from the owl carved into the wall of the Chauvet Cave 30,000 years ago (plate 2) to current digital photography (plate 58) prompted Wheye to compile a graphic data base of birds in art that explores the development of ornithological science. The data base was used in Paul Ehrlich's ornithology course at Stanford and a modification of the data base is associated with this book and available online at www.

The use of art to depict science raises an important question which is embedded in the title of this book: what is science art? Wheye and Kennedy provide their answer to this question in a brief preface. In the hope the authors will approve my even briefer summary; science art is the fusion of painting, sculpture, photography, or other forms of art that says something about the relationships of the natural world. Critically important to a work of science art is its explanatory caption that clarifies the underlying science. The book, "Humans, Nature, and Birds", is an illustration in words and pictures of science art with the focus on birds.

The book is laid out like the guide one often picks up at the entrance to a museum exhibit. The first half of the book, the lower gallery, traces changes in bird art through the centuries from the earliest cave art to the present. The gallery is divided into five rooms that look at birds as icons, resources, teaching tools, research tools, and as symbols for promoting conservation. Each room contains 3-6 works of art, each with an explanatory caption and a brief commentary on the science portrayed in the artwork. One proceeds from the lower gallery to the mezzanine where the reader and authors pause to reflect on aesthetics and how the state of science and the artist's knowledge inform his or her work. The second half of the book, the upper gallery, is divided into five rooms in which we are asked to consider science art as a specific category of art: how its content, style, and medium interact; the importance of captions to appreciating science art; the opportunities to display science art provided by the bare walls of public buildings, especially science buildings; the new public space available on the internet; and the final room, which offers a summary of all that has been discussed.

Following the last room is a remarkable Appendix that provides a timeline along which developments in art, technology, and ornithology are integrated. The Appendix is very different from the preceding discussion of science and art in which the authors have written about their thoughts associated with each plate, as it provides a synopsis of events that challenges the reader to search for relationships.

This book is essentially a set of short essays on bird art through the ages. The essays are well-written and thoughtful. Each refers to the art and the science of the work depicted in the plate. Longer essays introduce each grouping or room; still longer essays provide orientation to the galleries with a long, thoughtful essay on aesthetics and painting nature that represents thoughts on the mezzanine between galleries, the time when one stops and shares personal reflections on the exhibit with a companion. For me the book worked if I approached it as I would a visit to a gallery. I looked at and thought about the art, read some of the accompanying text, proceeded to another piece, read a bit more and closed the book. Later I visited the book again, maybe looked at some of the same art and some that I had not looked at before, read some more and eventually finished the whole book. During the time between visits to the book, I was able to turn over in my mind the authors' ideas about science art. I recommend the book to all who are interested in art and science. Furthermore, I recommend that you read it as if making repeated visits to a show that will remain in place for several months. Between these covers there is a lot of thought to absorb and enjoy.--EDWARD H. BURTT JR., Department of Zoology, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OH 43015, USA; e-mail:
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