AISculptureVisual Art

AI: The Thinker

Rodin’s epic bronze, The Thinker (1902), is often thought of as a monument to thought and contemplation. It elevates thorough contemplation to a place of great respect and even reverence.

Unfortunately, it seems to be somewhat unique in this regard.

Are there any other visual artworks that treat science, philosophy, skepticism or thought with this level of respect? Are there many out there? Why do you think they’re so hard to find?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. Are they? I would have (perhaps naively) guessed that there would be several from the Renaissance, say.

    Offhand, the one that comes to mind is Albrect Durer’s “Melancholia” (or “Melencolia”) —

    However, the subject of Melancholia is (IIRC) is meant to refer to the sort of vitiation and inaction that an overly reflective nature is prone to. So it may not quite fit what you’re looking for.

  2. Elyse, now that is all I can think about and my brain keeps going to the baaaad place.

    My first thought was the anatomical work of DaVinci, which I don’t know if he thought of as “art” but we sure display as art now.

    After that, I did some Google Fu and came up with another one that I quite like – The Astronomer by Vermeer (1668).

    I also found this page, which I would love to spend some more time on:

  3. Have you discovered Tomas Saraceno?

    He is possibly my favorite artist. Everything he does is related to utopian visions of the future and sculptures related to profound concepts in science. In particular, check out “Galaxies forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spiders web.”

    David Brooks was interviewed as a potential faculty member by my college, and he was without a doubt a proponent of science. He has secured funding for and accompanied biological expeditions to the amazon, and most if not all of his work is about the clash of humans and the environment.

    Another faculty interviewee was Adrian Wong, a Chinese-American Artist who did a series of pieces about Chinese superstitions. In one piece he did every single thing that’s supposedly bad luck on the New Year, on the new year. From talking to him, I’d say he’s not exactly a complete skeptic, but he’s certainly got some skeptic in him.

    I’d agree skeptical/scientific artists are hard to find, however. I think the main problem is the unctuous post-modern thought which pervades the art world. Underlying everything is the assumption that nothing is bad, everything is relative, even scientific knowledge. Phrases like “we can’t really know anything, dude” are smugly delivered without a trace of irony on a regular basis.


  4. Fracisco Goya’s Los Caprichos are a series of etchings which lament many of Spanish societies foibles, which include superstition, a lack of reasoning, and corruption within the Church. The cover is drawing of the artist asleep at his desk while symbols of stupidity (owls & bats. yes, owls were considered to be stupid.) rise up behind him. A lynx, a symbol of science, looks on. And on the desk is written “The sleep of reason produces monsters.”

    Diego Rivera’s Detroit Murals also incorporate a good bit of science. A couple panels are about the mineral wealth of the land, which is shown by geologial strata. Also it shows the making of a vaccine (including making almost all the lab assistance women, because they were.) and the administering of that vaccine. That specific panel caused the most controversy, because he took the composition from a religious painting.

  5. I may have referenced this artist in a past post, but U-Ram Choe has some very interesting science-inspired art. Galaxies and nebula rendered in metal, imaginary organisms with their own taxonomy and history. Cool stuff.

  6. Mr thumbtack, thank you for bringing up the whole PoMo thing. I think the emphasis on post modernism in my art history program in college (as well as all the ding-dong punk rock boys I dated who looooved PoMo) led to me being utterly non skeptical for about 5 years after college.

    There’s a pretty decent discussion on Post modernisms impact on modern acceptance of conspiracy theories in Jonathan Kay’s Among the Truthers that reminded me of many an art history class I took in the mid90s.

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