Fine art paintings and drawings represent some of the most important images—and most valuable objects—ever created and are rightly prized as among the highest achievements in human expression. These works were created in social and historical contexts that included relevant science and technology, and these influenced artists and their works—directly and indirectly—for example the discovery of the mathematical laws of perspective, the visual psychology of color perception, the chemistry of pigments, the optics of imaging systems, the technology of art printing, and much more. Understanding such scientific and technological contexts help us understand many individual artworks, as well as the forces that influence large-scale trends in visual art.
Science and technology, in the hands of conservators and scholars, help us study works more directly, as well. Sophisticated imaging, for instance, reveals hidden layers in paintings, revealing how an artist worked or "developed" a painting. Novel computer methods let us analyze and interpret paintings more deeply than by a scholar without such aids. Computers now empower scholars to study trends among tens of thousands of artworks, previously impossible by a unaided art scholars. These technical methods reveal new understanding and revelation about artworks, and continue to help combat the serious and pervasive problem of fake and mis-attributed artworks—in the commercial art market and on museum walls.
This highly interdisciplinary and profusely illustrated course will examine the intertwining domains of fine art, science, and technology... both throughout the last millennium of cultural history as well as in the scientific conservator laboratories in major art museums.
David G. Stork
"My current research is on using sophisticated techniques from computer vision, image processing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to analyze fine art paintings and drawings... a field I've named "computer-assisted connoisseurship." I have worked closely with humanist art scholars and lectured world-wide in major museums on this new discipline. These scientific and technical analyses, in historical context, help us understand, interpret, and appreciate artistic achievements. As part of my work, I've learned a great deal about how science and technology (human color perception, chemistry of pigments, mathematics of perspective, optics of imaging devices, ...) have influenced artists over the past millennium, and how in some cases technology has been influenced by artists and their concerns. I grew up in a family steeped in the arts (great grandfather was court painter in Austria, grandfather founded early artists paint company, younger sister Chief Calligrapher in the White House, and many others), and I try to integrate scientific analyses with humanistic understanding, whenever possible."