They told me that the truth of the universe was inscribed into our very bones. That the human skeleton was itself a hieroglyph.
— â€˜Something to Remember Me Byâ€™ from Collected Stories, Saul Bellow
Generally, when my roommate and I find a breath of a space between the obligations of academia, we declare that we must experience a wider, bolder swath of life — a swath of life beyond the innocuous margins of the text, the pedantic erudition and the giant, intellectual abstractions digestible only in quiet rooms steeped with the aroma of books. In these moments of vast aspiration, we have been known to turn to art — to experiencing this genre of life on our own terms under no overarching formalities or fine, symmetrical theories.
On most days we are terribly conventional pair, opting for UMMA or the DIA to set up our inevitable encounter with a masterpiece of leviathan proportions. Under the shadow of this work of art we would stand, humbled and bemused by its catastrophic beauty, yet unable to intelligently articulate why we felt the way we did. It mightâ€™ve been the subtle variations of color, the bluntness of the visual narrative or something more intuitive, like our individual capacity to identify with it that made it so poignant and remarkable. Regardless, our aesthetic senses were piqued. Our goal achieved, we would meander back home to tend to our books.
Traditionally speaking, art grasped our attention in the context of a museum, under soft bright lighting, backdropped with wide expanses of benevolently-hued walls. An air of legitimacy bound the place together. Â Yet, perhaps the most ruthless art, the art that had stricken me and had made me feel that terrifying unshakeable vulnerability in the depths of the marrow, occurred most peculiarly in my physics class.
The subject in question was the human body.
Time and time again, I am enthralled by Natureâ€™s wit, manifesting in tasteful, charming creations in every taxonomic branch of life; I am rendered utterly incapable of verbalizing its sheer grandeur. Oftentimes, I donâ€™t think we truly appreciate how miraculous our bodies really are and how come a century or two, the frontier of science will hardly come close to imitating every complexity of our human anatomy. On the most basic, structural level, we are composed of a series of levers and wedges and joints which collectively, so to speak, cheat the inexorable downward pull of gravity. I lift my arm and my mind can only hope to understand the mechanisms that have just transpired beneath this opaque coating, the sliding and pulling and pushing of tendons, exerting a perpendicular force with the radial length of our forearms. And something so plain like hands â€“ these sculpted specimens of extension have created and destroyed and pantomimed across tables and surfaces for centuries. Musicians, with their combination of crisply abrupt tips and taps of fingers on taut strings, of fingers alighting on piano keys to produce a swell of seamlessly strung chords, can give thanks to every delicate and carefully placed sinew, tendon entwined on bone. Further, our ears are capable of capturing these ghostly waves of sounds traveling at amplitudes and frequencies, ethereal and impalpable, yet absolute. (If only I understood what sound looked like inside myself.) One cell proliferates so our growth accelerates, pieces all compiling together to create exquisitely contoured masses constituting as life. What a daunting endeavor Nature has taken, refining era after era, for all these laws come together and combine to culminate in a fully functioning human being. (And here we are, suspended in this strange position as observers and corporeal manifestations of these laws. It is an innately human conundrum exclusive to our species.)
Natureâ€™s ingenuity is perhaps the best coalescence of science and art that I have encountered. It is an art that reaches a degree of personal relevance beyond what can be found in traditional museums. Needless to say, my roommate and I are thrilled about the Arts & Bodies focus by the Arts on Earth program happening this semester and will be traipsing around campus to attend the various events.
The art of nature â€“ and the art of bodies makes me certain that science is the artist that I revere and am enthralled by the most.
Sue majors in Neuroscience & English and tends to lurk in bookstores.