Abstract art

I have never been a fan of abstract art.  When I was about 10, my parents took me to Florida for the first time.  While there, we took a day trip to St. Petersburg to visit the Salvador Dali museum.  I felt lost and thought that the paintings were pointless.  My parents said that it might take a more mature age to understand such art.  

I don’t think that much has changed over the years.  A couple of weeks ago, I heard that the Guggenheim Museum has a scientific exhibit and decided to take my older daughter there.  The exhibit was much smaller and less impressive than we expected.  Since we were there already, we decided to walk through the rest of the museum (not for the first or second time).  I think that both of us had the same opinion – a black square or a few squiggly lines just didn’t do the trick for us.

I also never liked being asked to read a story and interpret what the author may have implied “between the lines”.  I guess you could call me quite literal.  Maybe that is one of the reasons I went into science.  What you see is what you get.

When I visited a SciArt exhibit a few months ago I had the same impression.  While certain images were scientifically accurate (albeit with a change of colors), others were an artistic abstraction of scientific concepts.  These mostly came from artists that became interested in science rather than the other way around.  One of examples that stood out for me was a very long print of a neuronal axon (the long branch that sends signals to the next cell) with multiple finger tips drawn along its branches.  It was meant to symbolize the way nerve cells can sense their environment.  Now that I come to think of it, an axon actually does not even act as the sensory component of a neuron.  Instead, it sends previously integrated information further along to the next cell.  But after incubating this information and reflecting on it for some time, something clicked.  Literal scientific images can be used to represent more abstract concepts.

In light of the recent events,  began contemplating on an image I have seen multiple times during my postdoctoral studies.  At the time, a colleague and I were working on neuronal regeneration (recovery) after acute central nervous system injury.  The animal model we used was an optic nerve crush.  Briefly, the nerve that connects the eye to rest of the brain was surgically “crushed” (with forceps) a couple of millimeters behind the eye.  Animals that received the experimental treatment were expected to show some regeneration or regrowth of some axons beyond the injury site.  In most cases, a dense scar formed at the injury site, preventing the cells that attempted to regenerate from passing beyond it.  The few axons that were able to pass were described as “tortured”.  In other words, unlike the healthy, straight, dense and parallel axons, the regenerating ones were sparse, disoriented and crooked.  They were able to recover, but the trauma certainly left a mark on them.

So this is the image that I want to portray in one of my future pieces – an optic nerve crush with partial recovery.  The scar will represent a traumatic event in my life, from which I will be able to recover, but will not pass unscathed.

optic nerve crush

The asterisk represents the crush site.  While the scar is not labeled in a separate color, the green processes on the right are the axons that were able to pass through this insurmountable barrier.

Daily Prompt:  Imaginary

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9 thoughts on “Abstract art

  1. I always learn something interesting when I read your blog. 🙂

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  2. To my unschooled eyes, I cannot discern any difference between the crush site and the area where the axons passed through. Would an un-crushed optic nerve look different? 😉 xoM

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  3. I never understood abstract art either. For me art should look like art, trees and flowers and people, not weird shapes and splotches of color all smeared together. But then, people counter it saying that it is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.

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    • I always had a very judgemental opinion that abstract art is just an excuse for people who cannot draw (or sculpt) well. When I saw some of the early works of Picasso, I was astonished! He could actually paint proper, lifelike paintings. I guess that development of photos and videos have sort of put traditional art out of business, as they are so much more accurate. So that is another reason for putting more “between the lines” messages into abstract and modern art.

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