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Van Gogh Painted Turbulence 76

rangeva writes "Nature is reporting that Van Gogh works have a pattern of light and dark that closely follows the mathematical structure of turbulent flow. From the article: 'Vincent van Gogh is known for his chaotic paintings and similarly tumultuous state of mind. Now a mathematical analysis of his works reveals that the stormy patterns in many of his paintings are uncannily like real turbulence, as seen in swirling water or the air from a jet engine.'"
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Van Gogh Painted Turbulence

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  • Intuited? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Monday July 10, 2006 @06:58AM (#15689977) Homepage Journal
    Why would he have to intuit chaotic flow? Anyone who's seen smoke rise from a cigarette or viciously stirred an absinthe and water mix, has seen similarly chaotic swirls. I think its safe to say Vincent would have done both.
  • Newton (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:52AM (#15690100) Homepage
    The article goes on about turbulence as if you can only draw these patterns if you know the maths and laws behind it. That's a bit like saying you can't catch a ball tossed to you if you don't know Newton's laws.
  • Re:Newton (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:13AM (#15690168) Homepage Journal
    Most people are capable of catching a ball. I'd hazard to say that the laws, or some mathematical approximation, are hard-wired into the human nervous system.

    However, most people can't render a decent image of a lit box -- not just the outline of a box, but an image of the light that the box reflects. I think it would be fair to say that Van Gogh probably spent a long time looking at, studying, and rendering these turbulent systems. In short, he taught himself the laws.
  • Re:Newton (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:39AM (#15690285)
    Look, maybe not all of us are super-athletes like yourself, but I certainly couldn't routinely catch a ball thrown to me until I learned about Newton's laws.

    Then it's a good thing that your particular gene combination remained unexpressed until after Newton; if it had been widespread while mankind was still in the Stone Age, humanity would have died out from not being able to hit prey with rocks and spears. And think of all the events of history that would have turned out different if people couldn't get an empirical feel for ballistics without knowing the equations -- the Mongols would have been much less terrifying if they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with their bows; the battle of Agincourt would have been won by the French because the English longbowmen were incompetent; Robin Hood missing the target and accidentally shooting Maid Marian in the archery contest...

  • It's only natural (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deuterium ( 96874 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:21AM (#15690913)
    People, by their very nature, cannot truly produce randomness. Everything we output is laden with the associations and processes inherent in the brain. Jackson Pollack apparently painted with a certain fractal regularity [] that he wasn't conscious of. I imagine that Van Gough didn't intend to depict turbulence per se, he just painted that way, and others percieve the mechanics.
  • No you can't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:40AM (#15691053) Homepage Journal
    You can see turbulent phenomena. You can feel that representations of such phenomena are correct or incorrect. But that's not the same as seeing turbulence.

    Seeing turbulence itself takes more than having the image of a turbulent phenomenon on your retina. That takes place at a higher level of the brain, one that is more imaginative. Artists don't "see" in the way a camera sees. not even photographers, who must search for the right opportunity where what they are looking for can be stripped naked of irrelevant detail.

    Painters especially don't just record what they see. They abstract salient details and present them in ways that emphasize or deemphasize. Even the most routine of painters will move a tree in a landscape or improve on a train of clouds in order to produce a more pleasing rhtyhm. But what we are talking about here goes way beyond that.

    Naturally, any realistic depiction of landscape will reproduce mathematical relationships, such as the fractal geometry of waves. But only a master like Hokusai can make a wave whose fractal nature is burned into our memory.

    Works such as "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" by Hokusai, or "Starry Night" by Van Goh are not realistic, they are hyper-real. It takes a great drafting skill to paint what is there, yet while it is a talent, it is not genius. Go out and look at some waves or some swirling smoke then try to think how difficult it is to freeze such a moving, evolving phenomenon and boil it down to its perceptual essence. That take genius.

    The reason art is valuable to the human race is that it show us how to be aware of what is latent in our perception, but does not enter into our consciousness.

Air is water with holes in it.