Ernst Haeckel

I've expressed my fondness for anatomical drawings on the blog before, and that sort of ties in with today's post: the artworks of Ernst Haekel. Haekel's work straddles the line between science and art. Much of Haekel's lithographic prints were completed and published during the ascent of Darwin and his theory of evolution. By all accounts, Darwin's On The Origin of the Species was like A Brief History of Time in its day: bought by everyone, and understood by very few. I was always given the impression that On The Origin of the Species was a reasonably straightforward read, but it's actually very dry and complex. There's no way I could read it all and take it in as Darwin intended. I lack the requisite knowledge and linguistic framework. The theories are pretty easy to understand (for most), but I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that we've been living with them as part of our culture from birth. But if you forget everything you've ever known about evolution and just try reading that stuff? It's hard work.

Haekel's work complements Darwin's, however, in a way that I think the layperson may find easier to understand. His works contain structure and symmetry. His composition accentuates the similarities and differences between the depicted plant and animal species. If someone were to read Darwin to you, you might have a fuzzy comprehension. But shown along with these images? I bet it would start making a lot more sense. He highlights structure and hints at an underlying natural order to things.

There's a few "but"s in there though. Not all the images are totally accurate. Like I said, he straddled the line between art and science. So he took a few liberties here and there for a better composition. And his beliefs didn't align completely with Darwin. He believed that learned behaviours and traits would transfer across generations, so in that respect he is also tied to the concepts of Lamark and soft-inheritance.

But forget all that. In the end, these are just beautiful images. There's something endlessly fascinating about this sort of examination of the natural world, where the artist attempts to render the subject in an entirely accurate and objective way, and in doing so detaches it from context and almost abstracts it. Like in its attempt to document life, it only succeeds in sucking all the life out of its subjects. I find that fascinating.

Anyway, I've had too much to drink (mid-week drinks are go!), so I've written more than I normally would. Maybe just enjoy the pretty pictures?
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Anonymous said...

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