Odds and Ends

Tomorrow I’ll try to share another old Flight Director war story.  The last one set off quite the email chain at work as all the old SRAG guys felt like I was complaining about their work; not at all.  Let me set the record straight; the folks that keep watch over the crew’s health and their possible radiation exposure are thoroughly professional and very dedicated.  And they mainly scare the Flight Director to death when they appear in the Flight Control Room.   The moral of my previous story is that there is a lot to know about how to fly safely in space and rookie Flight Directors are dangerous.  Tomorrow I’ll try to post another example of that. 

I had a little free time in Paris and tried to exercise the other hemisphere of my brain by going to the Musee d’Orsay, which is an art museum specializing in late 19th century to early (pre WWI) 20th century art.  I have a liking for the impressionist school and my friend from Marshall, Dr. John Horack likes the pointellists so I thought this would be a good place to improve my art appreciation.  The museum is housed in a converted 19th century train station and I must say that the building itself is as much a work of art as anything inside.  I am fascinated by trains and railroads and looking at this wonderful structure was great. 

The art is wonderful, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, and many many more.  It seemed like the artists have a few favorite subjects that appear again and again, however.  Among the popular subjects are scenes from the Bible, French peasant life, French countrysides, Paris street scenes, and the number one favorite subject of all the artists:  . . . nekkid ladies.  Hmm.  I guess that is how Paris got its reputation.

Being an engineer, I started looking for picures of technology and noticed how little there was.  An ox cart here and there.  A few sailboats, usually fishing sloops.  In the battle scenes there might be a cannon  or two.  But here they were in the middle of the industrial age with steam railroads, the dawn of aviation, and . . . almost nothing.  A couple of trains in the distance in landscape paintings, but nothing else.  Oh wait, hidden away in the corner was this little picture:


Bleriot’s little yellow monoplane crossing the English channel; one of the most significant events of early aviation history — and nothing else.  And even so, the clouds and their interesting play of light and shadow are the real subject of the painting, not the airplane.  And that was it; nothing from the Wright Brother’s famous exhibition in Paris.  Nothing.  Technology did not exist to these guys.  Engineering and technology was not a fitting subject for their art work. 


I thought about the great art work that I have seen at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington or in the Kennedy Spaceport in Florida.  People and landscapes show up there, but that art includes our machines and what we have done with them.  Even more to my liking. 

Now, do I have to connect the dots for you?  Art reflects what the artists think is important; great art reflects what the society thinks is important.  

Yes, you can learn a lot if you travel and observe and reflect on what you have seen.

7 thoughts on “Odds and Ends”

  1. Wayne,

    You didn’t happen to notice if any of the ox cart paintings was by Victor Hartmann, did you? Modeste Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” was a tribute to his friend Hartmann’s artwork, but very, very few of Hartmann’s original paintings/drawings that inspired the music are known to still exist. One of the pieces is about an ox cart.

    Just curious.

  2. Technology is driven by art, whether it’s to get a picture of something in space, lifting a camera into the sky, or embedding 1000 microprocessors on a chip to render graphics.

  3. Wayne: In my own trip to the Musee D’Orsay, several years ago, I too was struck by the preponderance of paintings with religious content. Is it the case that the great artists of the past were intellectual prisoners of their time, when the answers to life’s mysteries and sufferings were almost exclusively couched in religious terms? Will an art gallery of the future, housing the greatest paintings of the 21st century, reveal a paradigm shift in the topics and themes that artists strive to capture?

  4. Very interesting observation. As an artist and lover of industry and aerospace, I also look for technology subjects in good art. Most of the time, all you can find displayed are pieces that are created to make anti-technology statements only. But there have been so many wonderful aviation and space paintings done in the past few decades, it’s a shame to see them not be offered to the public for examination and appreciation. At least the Greenwich Workshop galleries have always given the aviation art genre a place in their catalog. A few years ago they even began to carry Allan Bean’s work. Too bad that France can’t see the value there.

  5. Just found this blog – fascinating insights. Thank you.

    As for art and technology, over in Great Britain there was much more interest shown by artists in the development of technology, perhaps unsurprisingly given the nation’s lead in the industrial revolution. Have you looked at J M W Turner, one of Britain’s most talented and influential painters? There’s a good book – J.M.W.Turner: Romantic Painter of the Industrial Revolution — which covers the period in the mid 19th century when he was fascinated by steam, power and the way it was transforming perception. Another, if you like that sort of thing, is “Pandaemonium: Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers”, which is a collection of reports and thoughts from the time.

  6. This is not something I'd realised, science and technology is ignored by the art world. It's particularly strange when you consider the astonishing technical and scientific knowledge of Leonardo Da Vinci which went hand in glove with his artistic skills.

  7. As an artist who prefers to paint technologic and scientific subjects, I can tell you that the majority of people are *not* interested in those subjects at all. They are met with blank stares for the most part, as the viewer hurries by to the abstract or pretty paintings. However, it has landed me opportunites to illustrate science articles and a book. Good and bad. It seems the attitude overwhelmingly is that technology and art do not mix. Sad, because when they do meet, the products are often quite delightful.

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