- Visualizations: The Nature Book of Art and Science
About four years ago, the editor of Nature, one of the world's best science periodicals, declared that perceptions shared by scientists and artists would be explored in a weekly series of articles under the title "Science and Image," with Martin Kemp as selector and essayist. In the winter of 1998, this feature assumed a monthly basis. It was a happy innovation, all told, and I make a habit of looking for these pieces. Their attraction is based upon the power of the picture, the single-page format, the narrative, and the alliterative titles (e.g. "Vermeer's Vision," "Basically Brunelleschian," Turner's Trinity"), in that order. Professor Kemp is very good at selecting appropriate and eye-catching images (both icons and rari-ties) and occasionally his analyses, albeit restricted to 500-600 words, include novel points of view. However, a major aspect to their success is surely the pleasant contrast between the feature and the remainder of the particular issue; others might even call it a pleasant relief from the normal fare. This does not detract one iota from the editorial concept nor the skills of the contributor.
Now we have the book that includes all the pieces up to August 1999. It is well-produced on quality paper and is, of course, ideal for the coffee table and bedtime reading. Rifling through the pages, one is again captivated by the images, but further inspection raises questions about the overall value of the vehicle. What worked beautifully as a weekly or monthly delectation for scientists has now become a collection. What is the goal? Is it the chance to catch the ones that were missed in the journal? Is there any advantage to having free-standing originals juxtaposed with supposedly like items? I found myself reading a few each night. Now the lack of depth creeps up and one starts wondering why Martin Kemp cannot write a little extra about this and that instead of being bound to the original format. I must admit that my reservation is probably influenced by the precedent of a related but much less successful collection, The Art of the Journal of the American Medical Association, wherein 100 covers (photographs of the actual cover pages) and accompanying essays (very derivative and not updated) were bound together.
Visualizations has a selected bibliography and a fairly well-organized index. There is a list of the original Nature articles with corresponding volumes and page numbers, although one wonders if those with the book will need to go back to the journal—that information might have been better placed in each chapter. A more serious concern is the lack of citation of the dimensions of the artworks. These data are important from both scientific and artistic viewpoints. However, the wonderful pictures with many messages will capture the imagination of readers, and those who labor at the interface of the hard sciences and the humanities will certainly welcome the appearance of this volume.
Professor of Biochemistry, University of Kansas Medical Center, 66160-7421, U.S.A. E-mail: <email@example.com>.