Cruel flowers

Tanya Devaeva, July 4, 2013

According to Hegel (as well as Plato) there’s the idea of the Absolute as a basis of everything. And after it somehow has developed to a certain point inside itself, it becomes the nature. The Nature is the closest to the source of perfection, and it expresses the closeness through its beauty and harmony. This is what strikes us when we see apple trees in bloom or the sunset, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just the sign that we are sensitive to the call of perfection.


Girls react to the beauty of the nature in the most natural way: just picking all the flowers they see. And in a minute the used and crumpled beauty is dropped. The culture tells us not to kill flowers for pleasure or for money, so we make it easier when taking pictures.


An Insta-photo is enough for most of us to get some fast beauty. But there are some people who like it slower and of better quality. Such kind of illustration like “botanical illustration” or drawing outdoors can satisfy them. One can admire the virtuosity of technique and love for the object being depicted. The artist is never emotionally detached, so such pictures are sure to feast your eyes and soften your heart. It’s a typical hobby of mature people as it involves observation and total immersion. No wonder it’s a method of art-therapy  in order to correct bihevioural and psychical problems.

Mushrooms by Alexander Vyazemskiy


Flowers by Margaret Mee


The extravert, social nerve of such illustration has been dying for 100 years, but it still exists. There is still some work to do, and it’s still called scientific as it was 500 years ago, when a drawn catalogue of the world was interesting not only for the artist. Hand-books and encyclopedia often use this kind of illustration as any process can be shown there easily and in details.


However, botanical and zoological illustration was immensely important many years ago, when people made discoveries based on the pictures so that the pictures became an essential part of it. People went to strange lands, spent their money and took risks to make pictures – just like in a Hollywood movie. 


But in the opinion of the 21st century person even the best pieces of such illustration are not fascinating. They seem too detached. In “Amazing rare things. The art of natural history in the age of discovery” Sir David Attenborough, the  the guest star (a naturalist and the author of many BBC blockbusters about nature) says “The artist’s style is hardly visible in scientific illustration. There’s no place for the feelings, nothing individual. Since they gave up drawing background no concept of perspective has been used. That is to say, we can barely tell the 16th century pictures from the ones drawn in the 20th.  

The huge “Hortus Eystettensis” is considered to be the classics of botanical illustration made in the beginning of the 17th century.


According to characteristic given by Attenborough, these pictures are impersonal, their only message is the greatness of the nature. They are scientific in the best way. The accuracy there is the guarantee of recognition – and that’s the way it is even now. Nevertheless, there are some pictures of different kind – ones that carry the air of époque and their creator, sometimes muddle the facts of science.

For example, Maria Sibylla Merian who has been collecting and painting insects and plants all her life, is still very popular not for the accuracy of her drawings but for the way she reproduced the object in them.


This definitely feminine manner of making the beautiful look more beautiful can’t leave the viewer indifferent. The artist’s addiction and the air of baroque give the picture the character and the story that an average person wants to know.

The maniacally perfect illustrations by Ernst Haeckel, a violent Darvinian whose pictures carry his ideology. Everything is organized and explained by the Big Theory. Every wonder of the nature is explained, harmony doesn’t conflict with algebra.


Haeckel’s  drawing from “The harmony of the shapes in nature” have influenced art and design — that’s what is said in the book dedicated to the artist. It’s easy to believe in it, as human’s obsessions are always in fashion.


Etchings about hunting by Johann Baptist Wilhelm Adolf Sonderland from Traité de fauconnerie (end of IXX)


Author collection of markers by Allister Li. Illustrations are drawing using the markers


Geometric recipe by photographer Kerl Kleiner


Patterns by Mauritsio Pellegrini


Pockets stuff by illustrator Dzhanis Vu

Another visual recipes by pjotographer Mari Ekross


Something should be also said about modern scientific illustration. They are mostly 3D illustration of all that microworld, genomes, drugs and also more and more detailed and accurate models of all the systems of a human’s body. The pictures are very useful, skillful and impersonal. As we don’t see the object in real life, we don’t get excited by the picture.  Maybe we just haven’t found the artists who deal with the pictures of DNA? Bjork’s team seemed to work with such images well. Tell us if you do.