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SP21 Barry - ENVIRON 244: Art in Nature: Micro to Macro

Take some time and go through Sections 1-3 on your own, doing your best to look over the images and answering the correlated questions (Click on any image below to reach a larger image and the object record). Don't be nervous if you are not sure where to start in "reading" a work of art! If it's a helpful place to start, try starting with identifying the Elements of Art:


Some other things to consider when looking at these images and answering the questions:

Symbols—things that have a specific meaning or that represent something else—are a powerful part of how we understand the visual world. We recognize symbols by using personal knowledge gained through memory and lived experience.

Context: Culture and history influence how and what we see. Much of our reaction to an image depends on the context we see it in. What was the artist trying to convey and how does this relate to the time and place in which the work was created? Similarly, how do the values and beliefs of our own society shape our understanding of an image?

1. Cosmology and the Sun

1) The two depictions of the sun here represent different conceptions of cosmology (the order of the universe and the place of humankind in it). Look closely at each image. How do the images explain the phenomenon of the sun? What are the forces shaping that phenomenon?

2) Look at Kircher's Map of the Sun. What do you think were the visual reference points that informed Kircher's effort to understand the sun through this visual depiction? Put another way, what does he make the sun look like?

3) Speculate about the cosmology presented by each of the images? What order is the sun part of? Where do humans fit in that order?

2. Messianic Space-Time

Historic, Narrative Space-Time

Empty, Homogenous Space-Time

1) What is the story that unfolds throughout space-time in Dürer's image?

2) What is the story that unfolds throughout space-time in van Rueysdael's painting

3) Van Rueysdael's painting is a classic example of modern European landscape painting. How does the painting represent space? How can we connect this representation of space to the age of science, exploration, and colonization?

4) This moody painting by Annibale Gatti depicts Galileo showing the moon to the poet John Milton. Galileo created his first 3x telescope in 1609. Going from the macro to the micro, "The first detailed account of the microscopic anatomy of organic tissue based on the use of a microscope did not appear until 1644, in Giambattista Odierna's L'occhio della mosca, or The Fly's Eye." Beyond these encounters with vast bigness and smallness, European cosmology had been radically transformed in the 1500s as Copernicus's heliocentric astronomical model began to prevail over a religious cosmology that put the earth at the center of the universe.

Speculate: How did these first encounters with the bigness and smallness of the world change perception of space-time and the significance of human events?

5) Philosopher Walter Benjamin suggested that the Scientific Revolution shifted western perception of space-time from messianic to empty homogenous space-time. What might this mean? How can we connect that concept to the depiction of space in a conventional landscape like van Ruysdael's? Is the space-time matrix onto which the artist maps his depiction messianic or empty and homogenous.

6) Sociologist Max Weber argued that modern, scientific, rational cosmology leads to a "disenchanted" understanding of the world. How does that relate to the transition from Messianic Space-Time?

3. Visual Representations of Empty, Homogenous Space-Time: Ruins, Nature, and Madness

Artists in the 18th and 19th centuries used the subjects of ruins, nature, and madness to consider the vastness of space-time and the smallness of human affairs.


1) What is the story that unfolds throughout space-time in these images?

2) How does the display of ruins consider the smallness of human affairs and the vastness of space and nature?

3) Goya's The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters has this commentary attached to it: "Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders." How does this relate to man's relationship with the vastness of space?

Delving into Macro/Micro Worlds

We are now going to look at a variety of modern and contemporary artworks that engage visually not just conceptually with the vast macro and micro worlds around us. With each piece, we will see/think/respond and talk about how these images orient us as humans toward these micro and macro worlds. What thoughts and feelings do these images evoke regarding the cosmos, the place of humankind in the universe, and the tenor of our encounters with micro/macro worlds. Compare these responses to the history of space-time and cosmology we perused above.


See the entire resource below:

Norman Baker; Giraud V. Foster
Ammonite, from "Ancient Microworlds"
color photograph on paper
26 in. x 22 1/16 in. ( 66.1 cm x 56 cm )
Gift of the artists
Map of the Sun. Illustration from, 'Mundus Subterraneus,' by Athanasius Kircher
engraving on two sheets of joined paper
15 ⅜ in x 19 in (39.05 cm x 48.26 cm);22 1/16 in x 18 1/16 in (56.04 cm x 45.88 cm)
Gift of Robert Israel
Gabor Peterdi
Sunshine with Flowers
etching and engraving on paper
20 3/16 in x 14 11/16 in (51.28 cm x 37.31 cm)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur E. Gulick
Norman Baker; Giraud V. Foster
Flowering Tree, from "Ancient Microworlds"
color photograph on paper
26 in. x 22 in. ( 66.1 cm x 55.9 cm )
Gift of the artists
Norman Baker; Giraud V. Foster
Conifer, from "Ancient Microworlds"
color photograph on paper
26 1/16 in. x 22 1/16 in. ( 66.2 cm x 56 cm )
Gift of the artists
The scene depicts a quarter section of the moon on the left side of the composition. The face of the moon is made up of swirling, circular shapes, with two lines that cut through vertically, and two shorter lines on the top left that cut through horizontally. The right side of the composition is solid black, and the details of the moon fade to black near the bottom.
Lowell Nesbitt
Moon Shot
screenprint on paper
22 1/16 x 29 15/16 in. (56 x 76 cm)
Gift of Reese and Marilyn Palley
An assemblage of wooden boxes painted black. The boxes are mounted on top of each other and each box contains carved pieces of wood in various shapes. 
Louise Nevelson
Dark Presence III
painted wood
97 in x 140 ¼ in x 10 in (246.38 cm x 356.24 cm x 25.4 cm)
Gift of Bobby Kotick
Within a black background a white oval shape sits at center; within the oval are a series of abstracted forms and lines in primary colors all characteristic of Kandinsky's style.
Wassily Kandinsky
Small Worlds III
lithograph on paper
14 in x 11 in (35.56 cm x 27.94 cm);10 15/16 in x 9 1/8 in (27.78 cm x 23.2 cm);13 9/16 in x 11 in (34.4 cm x 28 cm);19 5/16 in x 14 3/8 in (49 cm x 36.5 cm)
Museum Purchase
Richard Mock
Voids and Tangents, from "Voids and Tangents"
screenprint on paper
22 3/8 x 22 3/16 in. (56.7 x 56.2 cm)
Gift of Thomas S. Porter
Richard Mock
Electric States of Being, from the portfolio "Electric States of Being"
screenprint on paper
30 1/8 x 22 1/2 in. (76.4 x 57 cm)
Gift of Kathleen J. Crispell
Daniel Farber
Oak Leaf
color dye-transfer print on paper
12 13/16 in. x 19 7/16 in. ( 32.5 cm x 49.3 cm )
Gift of Mr. Daniel Farber.
An overlay of oval shaped leaves taking over the entire image. Light grey hues.
Don Worth
Tropical Leaves: Fittonia Argyroneura, California
gelatin silver print on paper
10 7/8 in. x 13 7/8 in. ( 27.62 cm x 35.24 cm )
Don Worth Photographic Trust


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Part of 1 Learning Collection

48 Collection Object Sources

Moon Shot (1991/2.109.3)
Dark Presence III (2016/2.119)
Oak Leaf (1976/2.152)
A Universe (1970/2.168)
Field Notes II (2009/2.103)
Spawning (1952/2.13)
Mud Cracks (2013/1.285)
Snowflake (2014/1.599)
Rose - Top View (2013/2.16)
Obi (2016/2.23)
Gold-weight (1997/1.477)
J.H.A. I (2015/2.46)
Untitled (2016/2.258)
Wet Sands (2011/2.160)
Water Pattern (2018/2.153.5)
Galaxy (1970/2.175)
The Last Judgment (2007/2.131)
Tintern Abbey (1984/2.7)

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Last Updated

May 17, 2021 8:44 a.m.


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