5/12/10

Homage to Michelangelo and Complexity



Michelangelo and Da Vinci's work are a major source of inspiration for my artistic and scientific work in complexity. Their Renaissance attitude is, in many ways, what complexity science, with its multi-disciplinarity and systems perspective is all about.

In the painting I have posted here I had a very specific goal. I wanted to do a painting in the manner of Michelangelo: a painting that focused on the human body and that celebrated the mathematical and scientific dimensions of art. However, I wanted to create a painting that fit with my own 20th century attitudes.

So, the first step was to determine how I wanted to approach the body. I stayed away from the over-muscular work of Michelangelo, opting instead for a more realistic portrait. I also wanted to have the person pose in a somewhat more humble and less grandiose manner--something that honored the dignity of humans but without going overboard. In the complex, global society in which we live, humility and a recognition of one's deep interconnectedness to the world, at least for me, is an important ethical position. I wanted to reflect that in the painting.

The second step was to incorporate a Zen Buddhist perspective into the painting. For me, the symbolism I primarily focused on revolves around the sky, clouds, and the circle, which have a lot to do with systems thinking, holism, interconnectedness, meditation and bodhichitta.

The final step was to incorporate some of the latest developments in complexity science and mathematics, namely networks and fractals. Math and science were an important part of Renaissance painting, and they are likewise important in my own work. In a fractal-like manner, there are levels of scale in the painting: there are large circles, which suggest a larger network that cannot be entirely seen; then there is the specific network structure surrounding the figure.

So far, reaction to the painting has been mixed. That is understandable because I struggled with the painting myself. I would like to continue exploring this type of painting, working next with more than one person or playing off of different poses that Michelangelo used in his own work.

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