Are fossils art? Does it matter?

I was at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago yesterday, and once again, I was really struck by the fossils.  They amaze me.  You know that deep down aesthetic place that I’ve talked about before?  Right there.  That’s where they hit me.   Take a look:

Crocodile fossil, Eocene (54.8–33.7 million years ago), Fossil Lake, WY, Field Museum, Chicago

Of course, this image doesn’t really capture it.  But you can get an idea.  This one, too:

Soft-shelled turtle with fishes and love bugs, Eocene (54.8–33.7 million years ago) Fossil Lake, WY, Field Museum, Chicago

(I’m not sure exactly where the love bugs are, but don’t you just love that they’re there?)

Honestly, I’m not too interested in the “what is art?” question.  (If you are, try this.)  But I did think about it while looking at these fossils.  They’re natural history, the history of our planet.  They’re science, biology, paleontology.  They’re also the museum.  (The Field Museum does a really good job of linking their history with their objects.  They like to tell you where the objects came from, that is, how they came to the museum, how long they’ve been there,  (I learned yesterday that most of the skeletons on display in the Mammals of Asia/Mammals of Africa area were bought in 1893/4 after the World Expo.) and maybe even who at the museum was responsible for getting them there.)  And are the fossils art, too?  When you get down to it, in this case, I don’t think it really matters.  It’s not that I don’t think it’s ever useful to talk about “what is art?” But here, art not art.  They’re just beautiful, and rich, and to me, inspiring. Here are a couple more:

Frog Species, Eocene (54.8–33.7 million years ago) Fossil Lake, Wyoming, Field Museum, Chicago

When you look at these, do you care if they’re art or not?  I’ll leave you with one more that will take your breath away:

Pregnant stingray with embryo and herrings, Eocene (54.8-33.7 million years ago) Fossil Lake, WY, Field Museum, Chicago


7 thoughts on “Are fossils art? Does it matter?

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this – although my website is centred on humour & satire, I do have a penchant for art as well. Although the question: “is this art” might not matter in this case, I think the answer is obviously yes – on a purely compositional note the pregnant stingray is deliciously well balanced. I look forward to reading more from you 🙂

  2. Hard not to think of those fossils as art. Symmetry and pattern there are interesting and nice to look at. I suppose you could get into a discussion of art vs. design 🙂

  3. That stingray is gorgeous.

    Hrm. I think technically they exist outside of any human construct or control they aren’t really art, but you could argue that by extracting them, cutting them and setting them up in an aesthetically pleasing manner (such as showing off the coolest fossil) we are turning them into something akin to found object art.

    (I remember I had an antropology professor who pointed out that cave paintings could look more or less like art depending on who was framing the set up of the photography and that it was an unconcious bias towards art.)

    They certainly can be inspirational for art. I love using ammonites in my work, crinoid fossils really grabbed my attention and got me to meander into watercolor paleoart, and the similarity between brachipods and gingko leaves has been distracting me recently 🙂

    It’s a bit of a detour, but if you ever get a chance, the Peabody Museum in New Haven had a great exhibit of x-rays of fish. Another art/not art thing. But they were gorgeous!

    • Ooooo — found objects — what a great way of thinking about this topic! I agree that they’re inspiring — and awe-inspiring. Art or not, nature has certainly turned out something incredibly beautiful in this case. Will have to take a look at brachipods and gingko leaves (which I love). And thanks for the tip — will stop in if I’m in New Haven!

  4. Pingback: The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland (Is nature art? part two) | I've got some art stuck in my eye

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