From the moment the first eyes gazed at a mountain, the beauty of geology was apparent.
Of course, rocks provided both the first canvas for artists, as well as materials to build and sculpt.
Indeed, it was sketchings of cross sections by William Smith in 1819 that some point to as the birth of the science of geology.
From the beginnings of the science, the marriage of art and geology has been a long and happy one.
And now you can get three hours of college credit for recognizing it.
Gary D. Rosenberg, professor with Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI), began teaching Art & the Earth Sciences in 1988 as a one-hour course. Since then it has expanded to be a three-hour course with labs -- and has proven to be very popular with students, providing an outreach for the science to students who would never think of stepping into a science laboratory.
The course is an outgrowth of a moment in 1987, when Rosenberg was approached Arthur Mirsky, then-chairman of the IUPUI geology department, about teaching a short course on "any aspect of geology he wished."
Rosenberg's first instinct was to merge his hobby with his vocation and produce "The Geology of Art."
"I could have devoted the entire course to landscape art, or to Earth materials in the fine arts," Rosenberg said.
"Art has taught me a lot over the years, and I have come to realize that geology's presence is manifest in the arts in other philosophical ways.
"I am pleased when I find artworks that are at first glance unrelated to geology," Rosenberg said, "but with further examination are actually informed directly or indirectly by evolution, plate tectonics or other aspects of geology."
Rolling up: "Geology art" student Jenny Teipen and master lithographer David Morrison, inks up "Spiral Links" on the Solnhofen limestone.
Photo courtesy of Gary Rosenberg
The Artistic Eye
His course, by using art objects and artifacts, introduces humanities and science majors to the principles of geology.
For example, the first assignment always is to find an interesting rock and to tell a story about it. His class is required to write a one-page story and to create a drawing that tells a story about their newly discovered treasures.
The story does not have to be scientific. The only stipulation is that the written or pictorial story must start from something about the rock that anyone in the class can see.
By examining a simple rock or pebble, a student is able to use all senses in determining the life of the stone. The color, shape and curious fossils found on the rock can tell a scientific story.
Rosenberg also takes his class through the "sounds" of geology, where he and his students "hunt" for Earth sounds and compose an etude with them.
He guides his class on a tour of a portion of Indianapolis' White River State Park, from the state capitol to the banks of the White River. The buildings, landscape, waterfalls, fountains, sculpture and a restored 19th century canal create an environment in which geology plays a tangible as well as symbolic role.
From the water (the river and the canal) to the sediment (river deposits, landscaped soil), this tour provides an artistic look at the geology and science amidst the beauty in the scenery of the Midwestern city.
The tour's main purpose is helping to appreciate how geology and human culture are linked.
Rosenberg teaches his class about morphing and the beauty of evolution by "transforming the shape of one object to another using old-fashioned paper and newfangled computer techniques."
The object of this experiment is to teach the student the theory behind the form of the earth and life, the general configuration of the earth's surface and the changes that take place in the evolution of land forms and of life.
One of the experiments is titled "Written on Stone -- The Art and Geology of Lithography."
Students are instructed to make crude lithographs using the famous Solnhofen limestone from Bavaria and rough-cut Indiana limestone. In the process they learn the chemical and geological principles of lithography, which are:
- Oil and water don't mix.
- Acid reacts with limestone, releasing carbon dioxide.
- Lithographic limestone was formed in clear, warm water in shallow seas.
- Those shallow seas once covered land that once was closer to the equator.
The first stone prints were done with the Solnhofen.
"The Solnhofen is a geological treasure, a rock of enormous paleontological import," Rosenberg explained. "It has yielded fossils of Archaeopteryx, the missing link between birds and dinosaurs, as well as exquisitely preserved remains of other Jurassic fossils including cephalopods, echinoderms, fish and microscopic algae that lived some 150 million years ago in what is now Germany.
"The Solnhofen and associated beds consequently tell us much about the ecology of the Mesozoic."
Students also etch glass plates with acid-coated plant leaves and create their own trace fossils. Rosenberg is attuned to modern evolutionary thought, as he encourages his students to "learn and understand that the activities are a metaphor for the process and vagaries of preservation, and the role of chance in evolution," in the project.
Rosenberg uses the art and experience of fossil hound and Illinois artist Tom Czarnopys to teach students about certain etching techniques.
Czarnopys etches steel plates by burying them in leaves in the forest. All living things release carbon dioxide as they decay, and the gas dissolves in groundwater to produce carbonic acid. This is a weak acid that etches rocks slowly but surely in the natural environment.
The purpose of the course is to "show students how the arts and sciences are interdependent parts of the same cultural whole," he said, "and to specifically explain how geology has influenced the development of the arts -- and how art has inspired the development of geologic thought."