The first time that art and science came together in a meaningful way led to the Renaissance. The craft of painting flourished and artists, after a long period of training, understood their materials and the techniques required to get the best from them. Paints and many pigments were prepared in the studio and the characteristics of the limited range of colourants were fully understood.
The glazing technique was developed and perfected using materials which were often very difficult to work with. The resulting effects mystify and draw us still. Although we have far superior materials at our disposal we have all but lost the amazing techniques which earlier works should have taught us.
The second time that science came to the aid of the artist led to the Impressionist era. Although we marvel at their skillful use of colour the Impressionist painters were not natural colorists They did not rely on an inbuilt feeling for colour but on scientific papers of the day. These introduced the concept of colour pairings, the importance of the after-image and other vital information concerning the influence of colour. Improved materials became available and the craft of painting was still of some importance.
Meanwhile the colourman, the maker of artist’s paints, had come onto the scene. They employed people with a good understanding of the craft of painting which enabled them to work closely with the artist. Over time the artist came to rely on the colourman and lost much of the previous understanding of their materials. As more time passed the bottom line became of greater importance to many a colourman than supplying the artist with reliable materials.
By the early part of the 20th century the techniques of the early Masters had been cast aside and the deeper understanding of colour which guided the Impressionists had been abandoned by movements such as Fauvism. Although their work emphasised painterly qualities it used colour for its own sake rather than the more scientific approach of the Impressionists. As one movement quickly followed another the basic understanding of materials, technique and colour which had guided earlier artists was gradually abandoned.
For decades the training of the artist at nearly all art schools has been centered around the ‘express yourself first and foremost’. ‘Just try things, anything as long as its different, but you must be able to write 1,000 words about it’.
This has led to a great deal of irresponsible and short lived work. Some time ago I was asked to restore several paintings by a well known artist. The works were large and had cost several million US$ each. They had been painted on unprimed bed sheeting which had been roughly tacked onto equally rough wooden frames. Each was painted with a mix of what seemed like school quality acrylics, house paint and car spray. In many circles this would be seen to be ‘smart’ – artistic even. The keen, amateur artist, rather than the professional seems to be far more concerned with setting standards nowadays.
It is easy to see why much confusion exists and is added to year by year. The concerned, genuine artist, craft-worker and others who use colour and rely on different techniques need to get on with their creative work; they simply do not have the time to sort out fact from fiction.
We have made that time available and have carried out detailed research over many years. By attempting to blend art and science again we hope to remove the many myths and confusions which surround the subject and replace them with sound information. The first time that art and science came together led to the Renaissance, the second time to the Impressionist era. What amazing work could come from a third and long overdue meeting?