Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The science of preserving art

Dr. Tom Learner is one of 25 scientists employed at the Getty Conservation Institute. His job: to preserve works of art, anything from ancient marble sculptures to modern art that uses some weird materials. This article explores his field, which combines "artists who like science" and "scientists who like art" and includes ethical as well as technical dimensions. Should old art be restored to the artist's original vision, or should it be "frozen" in its current state? Should modern art based on short-lived materials like sausage casing and bread be preserved if it takes great effort? The Sistine Chapel ceiling was restored with such fidelity to Michaelangelo's surprisingly bright and colorful paint job that some conservators complained the aesthetic - the majesty, if you will - of a ceiling scarred by centuries of smoke and other contaminants was lost.
Learner says of his job, ""I’m in this fantastic position now where I’m able to use my chemistry degree--which I almost gave up to pursue art--but now I can use it with a purpose and an application in a field I find fascinating."

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