Buddhist mandalas?
May 24, 2002 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Buddhist mandalas? Abstract doodles? Alien snow crystals? Nope. Just some amazing scientific art from Art Forms in Nature, published between 1899 and 1904 by zoologist Ernst Haeckel. Lots more early biological art at this scientist's public domain archive. Unfortunately, Haeckel also helped provide the philosophical foundation for Nazism. Hey, no one's perfect.
posted by mediareport (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Jim Woodring, anyone?
posted by mediareport at 11:14 AM on May 24, 2002

There is, of course, a link between purity of Nature, the soil, etc and the Nazi ideology, which also sought purity of Blood and firmly believed in the roots and soil; thus Jews, were a stateless people without ties to The Land and hence to be scorned (and of course much worse later on).
The wandering youth would trek through the land and through Europe, and this in part was not only healty but also put them in touch with the Soil and Truth.
The final irony, though: Hitler a vegetarian.
posted by Postroad at 11:14 AM on May 24, 2002

Yes, but...Jim Woodring, anyone? What a fun surprise to find that one.
posted by mediareport at 11:17 AM on May 24, 2002

These are stunning. Is there a page with an overview, or even thumbnails? I can't seem to find one.
posted by muckster at 11:24 AM on May 24, 2002

Here's a page with links to all 100 plates ("Plate" is apparently "Tafel" in German).
posted by mediareport at 11:31 AM on May 24, 2002

Postroad, The belief that Hitler was a vegetarian is an old canard (that has already been beaten to death on MeFi). He suffered from stomach problems (probably psychological, resulting from being the most evil man in history), and his doctor, at one point, prescribed a vegetarian diet. He followed it for a few months, then dropped it, and went back to devouring meat. Unfortunately, his brief fling with vegetarianism coincided with lunch dates with some non-German reporters (this was in the 1930s), who printed the fact that the Furher didn't eat meat, and so slandered vegetarians for all time.
(Thanks for the beautiful scientific drawings, Mediareport. I saw these at -- I think -- the Carnegie Museum last year in a very fine and comprehensive show.)
posted by Faze at 11:43 AM on May 24, 2002

Yes these are truly spectacular. Haeckel as a proto-nazi is particularly interesting. Is he the exception or the rule that neither science nor art leads to morality?
posted by quercus at 12:05 PM on May 24, 2002

neither science nor art leads to morality?

If you had doubts on the subject, there is always William Shockley for you. I think P G Woodhouse had strong Nazi sympathies. Lidsburgh said some pretty uncomfortable things (though he was neither an artist, nor a scientist, but quite an icon in his times).

I subscribe to the view that many scientists, writers and artists tend to have hopelessly muddled political views and just because we admire them in once sphere we shouldn't take their political view seriously. Extrapolation of scientific ideas into moral realms always struck me as a bit dubious.

Interesting link, by the way ....
posted by justlooking at 12:33 PM on May 24, 2002

How about Leni Riefenstahl? The documentary about her is an amazing, confusing portrait of a woman who's clearly a force of nature -- but how do you excuse Triumph des Willens?
posted by muckster at 12:48 PM on May 24, 2002

justlooking, Sorry to go on about the canards. But P.G. Wodehouse was not, not, not a Nazi sympathizer or anything even remotely resembling one in any way. Both George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh have gone on record in eloquent defence of him, and this notion has been so thoroughly debunked, that I can't believe is still current. (Again, fabulous, fabulous scientific images. What a treat.)
posted by Faze at 1:30 PM on May 24, 2002

Sorry about taking this off topic. But I dont consider Leni Riefenstahl a force of nature.

"In the fifties, Magnum photographer George Rodger discovered and photographed the Nuba tribe in the Sudan, Africa. One of the images became especially celebrated; a wrestler sitting on the shoulders of another tribesman. A fabulous image, both in itself, and anthropologically. One of its biggest fans was Leni Riefenstahl. She contacted Graham, and offered him $1000 for him to tell her where the tribe were. He refused. ..Because in 1945 he had been one of the first photographers allowed into Belsen, and for him, Leni's famous post-war hogwash about only filming "documentary reality" (ie morally neutral) stuck in his throat.

She went on to track Nuba down anyway, and took her own famous pictures of them (the subject for much of Susan Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism" essay, that saw in Leni's love for the rituals of tribal life, some disturbing corollaries for the blood and soil mythology of nazism). It later also became clear that she had to bribe the tribesmen to let her photograph them nude."

I had read that many hold her exploitative photography and its popularity responsible for the destruction to a certain extent of Nuba cultures.

(An aside: apparently only one director broke the 1937 Hollywood boycott of Leni and that was Walt Disney!)

Thanks for the correction, Faze. I enjoyed reading Woodhouse as a kid. Its good to know that he wasnt a nazi sympathizer.
posted by justlooking at 2:45 PM on May 24, 2002

Creativity is probably like a virus in one respect: it doesn't care who it infects. So finding a scientist or artist who's also an evil jerk doesn't surprise me. . But I do wonder if the popularity of Haeckel's eye-popping art -- particularly its almost-psychedelic intensity -- might have encouraged Germans to think more highly of his other views, too. What a bizarre twist it would be if these gorgeous drawings wound up attracting people to ideas of racial superiority.

I'm glad other folks like this stuff, too. Stop me now, I want to link to every last one of them. :)
posted by mediareport at 2:46 PM on May 24, 2002

This is fantastic. Reminds me of my first year Cell Biology classes where I tried (and failed miserably, I should add) to get down on paper what I was seeing through the microscope.

My brother and I have just spent the last half hour IM'ing each other: "Oooh, ooh, number 37!" "Check out 48!" "41 is pretty cool." "79 -- groovy lizards."
posted by chrismear at 3:51 PM on May 24, 2002

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