The Best of Both Worlds

What do you want to be when you grow up? For some that can be an extremely challenging question… Think about it – how many people do you know before the age of 25 (okay lets be for real, before 40!) who can answer that question with confidence. 

I always thought that was a daunting question but many people I knew did have a pretty solid answer (or at least they pretended they did).   As a creative, kooky kind of person interested in a variety of subjects and activities, I had a little trouble thinking in a linear fashion like normal people (yeah, yeah! normal shnormal).  I found that way of being quite boring.

Growing up it seemed that the logical choice for me was to set my sights on becoming a designer or visual director of some sort. That’s just how people saw me and that’s what was expected.  I went on thinking that’s all I could do and although I have always loved natural science (and some human science), I was never viewed as the academic type – I was simply to nervous to formally jump into the science world.  So with my predestined design career and my nonacademic brain I lived life on autopilot but with a consistent pang in my heart for the world of natural science.  In 2011 I came across Proteus, a documentary referencing Ernst Haeckles accomplishments along with his internal struggle between becoming an artist or a scientist. This film brought my own internal conflict to a head and I realized there is a way forward – there is room for both. Today’s scientists rely heavily on technology and genetics but throughout history, many prominent scientists were also artist in one form or the other – the two fields of study were considered a perfect match – art and science were partners in crime.


Northern Parula
Northern Parula – By N. Fontaine

Historic Scientist and Artist of Inspiration:

Ernst Haeckle (1834 –1919) did what many men of his time were encouraged to do. As per command of his father he went to medical school. After spending some time engulfed in his studies, Ernst Haeckle decided to take a break. With regretful blessings from his father he went off to Italy to study painting for a year and according to many historians, this was a turning point in Haeckles life. Many considered him to be a naturally talented painter and these comments influenced Haeckle’s dilemma of becoming a full time artist or returning to medical school. In the end, Haeckle didn’t return to medical school nor did he become a traditional artist. Ernst Haeckle became a zoologist, evolutionist, marine biologist, philosopher, writer and last but not least, a natural science illustrator and painter. Although his research brought him much recognition, it was through the pain staking and precise drawings of the protozoa called Radiolarians that lead Haeckle to one of his greatest achievements. In 1899 his most noteworthy research and art publication came to life.  Art Forms of Nature, which was and still is considered an “astonishing record of life”.

A type of slavery and slow death is what Marianne North (1830–1890) thought about marriage.  It was a pretty bold statement from a woman during the Victorian era but since she originated from a family of affluence she was able to bypass the duties of marriage. At the age of 41 after her fathers death, she had the wild desire to travel to remote lands and that is exactly what she did – Marianne survived in jungles for months at a time.  This was unheard of for a single woman (and a married one). So why was Marianne traveling around the world? Well she was busy painting and illustrating thousands of plants along with discovering hundreds of new species.  Today Ms. North’s contributions to science through art has earned her her very own permanent exhibition hall in the renowned Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

Graphite Cyclamen
Cyclamen – Graphite – N.Fontaine

Unfortunately, art and science are not taught together or even encouraged to be viewed as a complement of each other in today’s general school systems. Historically it’s clear that choosing a career composed of art and science is very possible and can be extremely successful as well as personally rewarding.  With this new inspiration I decided to modify my goals, learn new skills and brush up on a few that have been tucked away for years –  I’m redesigning my life to intertwine creative academics for discovery and enrichment in a modern world.



All Images, Audio & Artwork  © 2018 N.Fontaine 

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