Bean, why do you keep painting the earth?

On the intersection of science and art, the NY Times profiles former astronaut Alan Bean, who for nearly thirty years has painted what he experienced in spaceflight:

Critical attention has eluded Mr. Bean, 77, though he has developed, largely through word of mouth, a following among private collectors who pay up to $175,000 for one of his works. In July, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington will mount a show of 45 of his works and will release a book of reproductions of his paintings. He has high hopes that the 40th anniversary of the moon landing may lure critics to take a look at his work.

I’m used to drawing and painting an entirely different kind of lifeless body. But the Moon poses unique challenges:

People talk about nature being beautiful, and it is, but its not harmonized like a painting, he said. If Monet painted what he saw, we wouldnt celebrate him today. He painted a little of what he saw but then he painted mostly the way he felt about it.
Yet Mr. Beans methods still reflect his scientific side. He builds a scale model of every scene he paints, and uses a klieg light to simulate the sun and to get the shadows right. He works out the angle of the light and the positions of the people with mathematical precision. He wants the details to be historically correct.

The story doesn’t cover the artistic side of NASA, and thereby may leave the impression that Bean is more of an anomaly than he really is. An immense attention to scientific illustration accompanied the development of the space program, as photorealistic renderings of space (and very early on, animated computer graphics) were an important part of spreading the science to the public. Bean’s approach is, of course, very different and helps to extend the tradition outside the technical aspects into the humanistic sphere.