Nanotechnology – and the art of appreciating the tiny

In the past on the Agora Gallery blog we have mentioned art which focuses on the world of the micro – the things that are so small, we either don’t notice them or can’t see them without the aid of a microscope. As technology develops, another, even smaller world is increasingly the subject of artistic interest; the world as shown through nanotechnology.

‘Nano’ basically means really, really small. If you’re using the word to describe something, it means the material you’re talking about has dimensions of 100 nanometers or less. Once you know that a single human hair is roughly between 80,000 and 100,000 nanometers wide, you can begin to see quite how small that really is. The result, of course, is that nanoscale objects are far too small even to photograph, no matter how great your camera is. In fact, you need special equipment like scanning electron microscopes to get nanoscale images of any kind.

All this makes it seem as though the nanoworld couldn’t provide much of interest for visual artists. After all, you can’t see it, and, even worse, the electron images we have of them are only worked in shades of grey, without color to make them more interesting. So what is it that has artists all over the world excited about this new field?

Well, it’s partly about what we are learning to do with nanotechnology. As you can gather from the name, it means working with and changing things on the smallest of stages. That really does mean that you can build something, or build certain qualities into something, from the ground up, starting at the most basic of levels. From creating composite materials for cars and packaging materials that have greater strength and transparency, to making sunscreen and anti-aging cream, or paints and coatings for lenses, or even self-cleaning coatings for windows, getting involved at the nano-level means more control, and more potential for creative involvement. This concept is naturally fascinating to artists, who are generally involved themselves at every stage of their own creative process, sometimes even going so far as to make their own paints.

Then, too, there’s the emphasis that nanotechnology places on the tiny details. Artists know, perhaps better than anyone else, how crucial these seemingly minute particulars are in building up just the right atmosphere and concept. Moreover, it’s a reminder not to overlook the little things in the world as we rush through it; a gentle hint of the importance of taking ‘time to stand and stare.’ The lovely images in this post are not of nanoscale objects, but are a visual reminder of what we can see if we take the time to focus on the small details of our experience.

In addition to this, many artists talk about their interest in current affairs and the events and developments that characterize our lives. There has always been a connection between science and art, and many feel that the more we find out about our world through science, the more we can investigate and celebrate it through art.

What do you find inspiring about nanotechnology? Let us know in the comments!

One comment

  • My favorite is Georgia O’Keeffe. She takes a large object and zeros in on it, to make it into a different object.

    The Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, NJ has a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition that opened tonight. It is amazing. Her work is beautiful. And so distinctively her own.

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