Green Light: Art, Nature and Science

By Tom Osborne
By Tom Osborne

“Beauty will save the world,” said a character in a novel written in the late 1800s by Feodor Dostoevsky, one of the most revered authors in modern literature.

Seemingly inspired by this insight, the MacGillivray family in town has long been making film documentaries that have aimed at saving dolphins and other marine creatures, and now with their One World One Ocean initiative saving the seas on which so much earthly life depends.  The combination of waterscapes, aesthetics, and science–a MacGillivray Freeman Films trademark–informs and goes to the heart of the upcoming Art & Nature theme that will be explored in the months ahead at the Laguna Art Museum. Given the perils of climate change, sea rise, reef acidification, and the depletion of fish stocks nearly worldwide, the timing for the Art & Nature program is spot on.  Not surprisingly, Greg and Barbara MacGillivray helped executive director Malcolm Warner and others at the museum brainstorm what should go into the themed program.

For good reason, the ongoing exhibit of “Sea Change: Tanya Aguiniga’s Bluebelt Forest” will remain a central fixture of the Art & Nature program. My wife and I were greatly impressed by the creative rendering of undersea life by the artist’s use of paper, yarn, paint, and other simple materials in combination with lighting. Another major feature of the program will be a huge drawing in the sand on Main Beach, a commissioned work by Santa Cruz artist Jim Denevan.  These two artworks and more are aimed at getting all of us to contemplate the manifold intersections between the forces of nature and the artistic expressions of humankind. Plein air painting, a Laguna tradition, assuredly embodies those intersections.  The Laguna seascapes and landscapes of William Wendt, Joseph Kleitsch, and others exemplify those intersections, and will be on exhibit.

As classical and timeless as these earlier works are, a new generation of sculptors, photographers, and muralists, among others, is challenging us to think anew about those points where art and nature meet, overlap, and beckon our attention.  A walk through Heisler Park offers fine examples of contemporary public art linked to nature.  George Stone’s sculpture of “Rock Pile Carve,” featuring a sea boulder bisected by a slab of stainless steel, comes to mind.  In the same vein, Larry Gill’s and Gavin Heath’s whimsical “Tide Pool Paddleboard” consists of a concrete paddleboard bench with five imbedded, glass-covered tide pools, affording cameo views of colorful sea grasses, jelly fish, squid, and limpets.

In talking with Warner, I learned of another modernist twist in the innovative program: a look at the intersection of science with art.  He met with Michael Latz, a marine biologist at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, to discuss bioluminescence, that is, the ability of some sea creatures to generate their own light.  Latz had worked with photographer and video artist Erika Blumenfeld on artistically rendering the bioluminescence phenomenon. Latz will share his insights on the conjunction of science and art in a panel discussion to be held on Nov. 9 at 11 a.m. at the museum.

To lend coherence to the sensory delights awaiting those attending the Art & Nature program, Kevin Starr, the former state librarian and dean of California cultural historians, will be the keynote speaker, addressing program attendees at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9. The title of his talk is “Art, Nature, and the American Landscape: Pioneer Pathways Towards Defining California.”    Having read his major works and heard him speak elsewhere, I know of no one more qualified than he to bring a time perspective to the engaging theme of art and nature in the Golden State.

Dostoevsky may have been right.  The interweaving of art, nature, and science just may provide the beauty needed to save the world.

Tom Osborne, a recipient of Laguna Beach’s Environmental Award, wrote “Pacific Eldorado: a History of Greater California.” He is at work on a book about Peter Douglas and the California Coastal Commission.



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