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Is Space Art Dead?

Mercury Spring 2009 Table of Contents

Cook opening page

Image courtesy of Lynette R. Cook.

by Lynette R. Cook

For nearly three years I've been haunted by a headline in the Los Angeles Times that read, "Imagine That: NASA's Photos Eclipse Space Art." Befuddled and dismayed, my space-art colleagues and I wondered at the time how this message could have bubbled to the surface from the series of informational interviews the writer had conducted about our work and experiences. Was this an attempt to sell more newspapers, or had she picked up on a real trend in astronomy and astronomical education that spelled doom for this small group of specialized artists?

Whether or not this is the proverbial "writing is on the wall," the field of space art -- the youngest member under the broad umbrella called scientific illustration -- has changed since its inception and continues to adapt as technology advances. Just as earlier artists feared that the advent of the camera foretold their demise, the wondrous success of the Hubble Space Telescope and other technological marvels created ripples of uncertainty among space artists. While there is no doubt that space art and artists still exist -- after all, look around…space art is everywhere, right? -- what is the state of its health? I determined to find out.

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