Solar art

Posted by Dan on Oct 15th, 2008
Oct 15


Detailed closeup of magnetic structures on the Sun’s surface, seen in the H-alpha wavelength on August 22, 2003.

Does an astronomical photo like this qualify as art?  We have an image rather than the object itself, but one can argue that the image is “found art“, in that that it was selected from thousands of existing photos rather than composed deliberately.

Found art derives significance from the designation placed upon it by the artist.

Found art, however, has to have the artist’s input, at the very least an idea about it, i.e. the artist’s designation of the object as art, which is nearly always reinforced with a title. There is mostly also some degree of modification of the object, although not to the extent that it cannot be recognised. The modification may lead to it being designated a “modified”, “interpreted” or “adapted” found object.

The image has gone through several selections and modifications.  First, the scientists who designed the instrument decided what wavelengths to capture, and at what resolution.  Then they processed the data into an image suitable for humans.  They selected some images and discarded others, and blew up selected portions of those images.

The Boston Globe selected 21 photos for publication, and no doubt did some additional image processing.  Finally, I picked one image and reduced it to fit in the blog.  All that’s missing is a pretentious title like “Heartburn”.

If this is art, at what point did it become art, and who is the artist?  If it’s not art, what is it?