Airbrushed Space Pics Are Abstract Art

Illustration for article titled Airbrushed Space Pics Are Abstract Art

Is this art? This picture of the Cat's Eye Nebula, and other images from the Hubble Space Telescope, are hanging at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. The exhibition of science photos has made people question whether a photo taken by a machine can be art. But the more you examine that question, the more you realize how artificial these photos really are.


What makes these photos art is the fact that humans have altered them, argues the Museum's Gary Vikan in a Baltimore Sun op-ed:

These photos of outer space, like all photographs in art museum exhibitions, earn their public display precisely because of the creative interventions of a talented human being. In the case of the Hubble, our visitors soon come to realize that the data from which these images are created are not visual but numerical, and that you and I could never "see" the Cat's Eye Nebula the way its photo shows it, even if a rocket could somehow propel us to its near neighborhood some 3,000 light-years away. Why? Because the radiation emitted by the nebula and given visual expression in the photographic print is substantially outside the boundaries of human sight.

In other words, it's art because it's numbers translated into an image. So in a sense, it's abstract art. But what really makes these images cool isn't that they're "art," whatever that means. Rather, it's the fact that they're maps, argues blogger Her Majesty of Maps.


Charlie Jane Anders

@Log1c: Since the guy I'm quoting from actually says in the quote that the pictures are capturing non-visible frequencies of light and translating them into visible frequencies, I think it's a safe bet that he does know that.