Brain Pickings

Biology-Inspired Art


Swine flu, eye color, and what fractals have to do with gene sequences.

Science and art have long been enamored with each other, albeit on more abstract levels. Today, we look at four examples of art that borrows from science in the most literal of ways.


In 1904, German biologist Ernst Haeckel published Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature) — a beautifully illustrated book full of artistic interpretations of the biological forms Haeckel studied.

Recently, the copyright on the book expired and all the images entered the public domain — they are now available for free on Wikimedia Commons.

Depicted with amazing, fractal-like clarity of symmetry and detail, the illustrations bespeak an intersection of art and engineering — more than a century before the current fascination with science-centric design and biomimcry.


Sculptor Luke Jerram explores the microscopic and scientific on an artistic macro scale. His series Glass Microbiology depicts various viruses and phages as large, transparent, three-dimensional sculptures.

From swine flu to e.coli, the sculptures offer a perfect play on the tension between the aesthetic beauty and functional ugliness of these biological villains.

Thanks, Maura


Dancing around the line between interpretive art and factual science, DNA Art Forms identify 15 unique regions of your genetic code, have an artist capture it as your choice of abstract form, landscape, or portrait set against the background of the actual DNA representation image.

The artwork isn’t your grandma’s digital art — it’s real oil on canvas. But it does come with a hefty price tag: Portraits start at $1,350.


My Gene Image takes genetic portraits to a whole new level. Well, sub-level, really. They let you select a specific gene you are interested in — like, say, eye color or pheromone or circadian rhythm — and identify it in your genetic sample, then render the gene sequence of A’s, T’s, G’s, and C’s against a colorful background.

Talk about making interior design very, very personal.

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