Gravity and Art

I first really became aware of gravity when I learned that our moon is responsible for changing the tides, that is, the high and low of the tide.

Meanwhile, I understand because of this that the much larger but more distant sun also influences our ebb and flow, deforming our earth. Finally all masses of the universe affect our oceans, our planet, because of their distance only insignificantly, because this force decreases strongly with the distance. But they do have an effect, and the universal principle that everything is connected to everything will always be with us.

The reason why we do not fall off the earth is the gravitational force, the force of gravity, which pulls us to the center of the earth. This force also affects the people on the opposite side of the globe from me now, in Australia. Actually, this force is not really strong, it can be overcome at least temporarily by hopping or by cleverly constructing a paper airplane. Nevertheless, it is very significant for my everyday life, because I can weigh myself with its help, for example, and determine differences from earlier measurements. At sea level I weigh more than in the Alps, because I am less far away from the earth’s core, at the equator I weigh less because of the centrifugal force of the earth’s rotation, fortunately with a difference that is not relevant in everyday life.

Hmm, whenever I think I understand something, I realize that it goes on there and the subtleties become more and more fine-grained, but there they are. I can ignore the dust on a desk, it may be irrelevant, but it changes the light and sound properties of the desk and the room, the weight, leaves traces of use and much more. Everywhere, processes occur in the smallest of things that cause big changes – or not. But if “small miracles” happen everywhere, how big must a miracle become that it can be perceived?

Does gravitation arise also there “in the smallest”? Where does gravity come from, how does it arise, why does it only have an attractive effect and never a repulsive one? Would we notice it immediately if the moon were gone, or delayed? Does the gravity have a measurable speed or is it immediate?

The mass is probably decisive. The more massive an object, the heavier it would be and the more gravitational force it would generate in attracting other objects. Ok, that was halfway satisfying and conceivable, although I did not understand the origin of this force. But with the nevertheless quite big moon which orbits around us, I can imagine that he lifts the water of our oceans easily, probably also the earth mass, but with that one doesn’t notice it so much.

That the moon curves the space-time, I could not imagine at that time yet, this is not an everyday thought, after all. This curvature of the space-time could be proved in the meantime by the observation of gravitational waves at the fusion of two black holes. More about this later.

So what role does gravity play in art?

In many artistic disciplines, including painting, kinetic art and ‘just for example also textile art, it appears visibly and is often also a formative element. Gravity an essential factor in many artistic disciplines and artists use it consciously or unconsciously to create unique and fascinating works.

In painting, gravity affects the way paint flows and spreads on a surface. In the pouring technique, for example, liquid paint is poured onto a canvas and gravity determines how the paint spreads and often mixes in a marbled manner. Gravity can also be used to create unique effects, such as paint dripping down and hitting a flat or sloped surface. The technique known as “drip painting” was developed and coined by Jackson Pollock.

In this process, liquid paint is dripped, flung or sprayed onto a flat canvas. Gravity plays a decisive role here. Jackson Pollock used this technique purely or with energetic physical effort to create unique abstract works of art. The resulting works also often emphasize the physical, dynamic act of painting itself as an essential aspect of the finished work.

Andy Warhol’s “Piss Paintings” are another fascinating example of how gravity can be used as a creative tool in art. In this series of works, also known as “Oxidation Paintings,” Warhol placed canvases on the floor and coated them with copper paint. He then invited his assistants or visitors to the Factory to urinate on the still-wet paint. Gravity played a crucial role in this process, guiding the liquid across the surface of the canvas to create unique patterns and textures. The acid in the urine reacted with the metallic paint, causing oxidation that changed the color. In doing so, Warhol noticed that the urine of different people produced different colors, depending on their diet and the amount of vitamin B in their bodies.

Kinetic art – as the art of movement a significant part of installation art and sculptural art – uses gravity to create movement in artworks in conjunction with counterbalanced equilibrium, motors, or environmental influences such as wind. Kinetic sculptures, for example mobiles, are constructed to use the principle of balance. They consist of a series of rods from which weighted objects or other rods hang. The hanging objects balance each other so that the rods remain more or less horizontal and move, for example, due to wind. Artists like Alexander Calder are known for their kinetic sculptures. The very popular wind chime uses a similar principle to create enchanting sound experiences.

In sculptural art and land art, artists like Cornelia Konrads use gravity to create illusions of weightlessness. She stacks objects such as logs, fences, and doors so that they appear to float in mid-air.

Marcel Duchamp already used gravity and its effect on objects in 1913/14 in the impressive work: “3 Standard Stoppages” and created a masterpiece of conceptual art with three strings, each one meter long, falling from a height of one meter.

In textile art, gravity affects the way fabrics fall and fold. Depicting folds in fabrics requires an understanding of how gravity affects different materials. Heavy fabrics or special seams, for example, create folds of different volumes and widths. Artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were masters at depicting folded fabrics in their paintings, and one senses their weight or lightness even when they were carved in marble.

Gravity also plays a crucial role in balloon art, in swarm art with quadrocopters, in falling fabrics or foils, in ribbons kept floating by fans. Artists must consider the effects of gravity on their creations to ensure that their artwork looks the way they intend it to when it runs. Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog” is a well-known example of an artwork that mimics the shape of an inflated balloon and plays with the illusion of gravity and air pressure. This shows that art can leave boundaries and also point to an event from the outside to add to or even change the way we look at things (humorously in this case).

This is only a short list of a few areas in which gravity has a creative influence or is a means of design, there are many more and the inclined artist will have new ideas about it, now that he has opened his eyes to it.

But how does gravity come about?

Imagine you are an apple hanging from a tree. Suddenly you feel an irresistible urge to break away from the branch. You fall. But why are you falling and why down? Well, gravity is at work here, the wondrous invisible force that pulls us.

Gravity is explained by physics a fundamental interaction that causes a mutual attraction between all things with mass. It is by far the weakest of the four fundamental interactions and therefore has no significant effect on subatomic particles. But on a macroscopic level, it determines the motion of you as an apple, of planets, stars, galaxies, and even light.

The history of gravity began with Aristotle, who believed that objects tend toward a point because of their internal gravity (gravitas). Then came Galileo Galilei and found that all objects accelerate equally in free fall. Isaac Newton finally formulated his law of universal gravitation, which held until the early 20th century, when Albert Einstein developed the special and general theories of relativity.

On Earth, gravity (1 g) gives weight to physical objects. On other planets, objects experience different intensities of gravity and therefore have different weights. For example, gravity on the Moon is less, about 0.17 g, on Mars it is about 0.37 g, while on Jupiter it is stronger, about 2.53 g.

So one could calculate the planet on which a wet painted picture was painted by using the drop courses. This might be relevant in case of forgeries in the future, an amusing thought.

As always, the gravity thing is too simple to be true. Albert Einstein proved that gravity is not a force in the true sense, but the curvature of space-time. You’ve probably heard of this before: space and time, these two things we all take for granted, are actually inextricably linked and form what we call spacetime.

And what does this mean for our beloved and familiar gravity? Well, according to Einstein, gravity is the result of the curvature of spacetime by mass. That’s tough stuff, but I’ll try to describe it metaphorically: think of spacetime as an elastic latticed rubber web on which all the objects in the universe lie.

The more massive the object, the deeper it sinks into this fabric and curves it around itself. And it is precisely this curvature that we perceive as gravity. I admit it’s a little complicated to incorporate this into one’s perception of the world, especially since the fabric is only quasi-flat and dented in the model I just described, but in reality a spatial grid forms deformations in all directions.

But wait, it gets even better: Einstein predicted that when two very massive bodies moved, they would create “waves” in the space-time continuum; moreover, these waves would propagate at the speed of light. These waves, called gravitational waves, were actually directly detected for the first time in 2015. He was right, we can’t avoid the fact that gravity is a space-time curvature.

Is there selective gravity, that is, gravity that follows chance or intention? You could almost argue that there is. You may know Murphy’s law: “Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. One experience, also of mine, is “a dropped object always falls where it will or can do the most damage.” Imagine you are an artist about to create a complex installation.

You have a screwdriver in your hand and are working on an electronic device. Suddenly, the screwdriver slips out of your hand and falls inside the device. And where does it land? Of course, exactly where it can do the most damage – on a sensitive circuit board, causing a short circuit. The sandwich always falls with the butter side on the floor…..

Let’s take a look at this: Gravity is a constant force that always acts in one direction – downward on Earth, toward the center of the Earth. It doesn’t “decide” where things land or what path they take. But when things go wrong (as they often do), we tend to see patterns and believe that gravity is somehow working against us, being selective. This is how superstitions are created, fortunately it is not actually gravity that is “selective” but our perception of events.

Now you may be asking yourself, “What does all this have to do with art?” Well, imagine you are an artist pouring paint on a canvas and have the choice to do it under different gravitational forces. Gravity determines how the paint spreads and mixes. Gravity affects how the kinetic sculpture moves.

So the next time you look at a work of art, think about the invisible hand of gravity that acted in the background when it was created or that acts when it moves. And the next time you wonder why apples fall from the tree, you might ponder: it’s not just gravity – it could also be a wave in space-time….

…but it could also simply be “just” art.