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Scientific Discoveries in Art

Mandy Theis

Monday, 7 June 2021

Scientific progress is not always recognized in art, but it plays a significant role in aesthetic developments.

The discovery of cadmiums as a use for pigment had an enormous effect on the trajectory of art. Cadmium reds, yellows, oranges, and greens suddenly and drastically altered the range of colors artists had access to in their palettes.

This in turn, changed the way artists painted.

Having brighter and more chromatic colors on their palettes inspired artists to paint subjects that were previously disappointing to attempt, such as brightly colored landscapes, because they could now come closer to painting their subjects with the colors they observed in nature.

Before artists had access to brighter colors, many focused on using the value of the colors – how light or dark they are – to recreate their scenes on canvas. With an expanded color range, artists could shift colors instead of values to show three dimensional effects. It was an additional tool now available to painters to use when making artwork.

Not only did artists suddenly have access to many bright colors that are useful for landscape painting, but they had access to another invention in short order: the tube of paint.

Traditionally, artists used pigment powder to grind with oil to create their own paints. This process was time consuming and equipment-heavy, which made it largely impractical for transporting. So if artists wanted to paint a landscape, this was most often done by creating sketches in charcoal or watercolor on site, and then completing oil paintings of the landscape in a studio interior.

But when tubes were discovered it made a huge impact on painting practice. Now artists could store their paint for very long periods of time. They could also take large or small amounts with them into the field. This lead to landscape painting being created on site, and it revolutionized the genre.

When painting on site, artists had more opportunities to closely investigate colors, forms, and other aspects of painting without having to rely on sketches and memory. They could take in more information this way, and landscape painting as a genre exploded. What was previously considered a lesser subject of art became an admired one, and a necessary aspect of studying art at the turn of the last century.

When cadmiums and tubes for paint were invented to create new colors and store oil paint, it freed up concepts of painting that could not have been explored without them. These discoveries combined allowed painters to travel outside to paint, as they no longer were tied to their studios to grind their pigments, and to paint with colors that better represented the colors they saw in nature.These scientific discoveries lead to the ability for painters to expand their palettes and paint outside, and an explosion of landscape painting was the result.

These are just some of the many overlooked scientific advancements in art that shape artwork being made even today.

What other scientific advancements happened throughout the history of art-making? Let me know in the comments below.



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