on 27 December 2003
I utterly adore this book. It's one that I come back to time and time again for visual inspiration. It is undoubtably beautiful to look at but it's also completely nutty in that delightfully mad Victorian way. People tend to think of this sort of very detailed drawing as being very accurate and as being "real art", yet nothing in nature is as symmetrical or refined as Haeckel drew it. He created an erzatz nature, a nature that is highly sylised to the extent that his forms read not as natural but as profoundly alien. The way he drew was not realism, but an extension of his scientific beliefs. Haeckel was a fervent believer in Darwinism and the essay at the beginning of the book is an interesting exploration of the way in which his belief overrode his scientific objectiveness, to the extent that his scientific research has since been proven totally false. He committed the cardinal sin in the scientific world of falsifying his data to fit his theories. Yet artistically he remains an influential yet little known figure, whose engravings played a huge part in the development of Art Nouveau and continue to inspire artists to this day. His work deserves to be much better known and this book should be on the shelves of every artist, designer and visually literate person.
on 12 March 2009
In every sense of the word. There's something relentlessly fascinating about this book, it's a monument to obsession, to the scientific viewpoint, to nature, too. The introductory essay is tedious beyond words, but still puts the images themselves in context - and what images. Timeless, intricate, bordering on heavy metal at times, with their spikes and prongs. These starkest images of micro-skeletons etc are the ones I treasure most. Unearthly - yet also simply a clear view on what is really there, in our world. Every home should have a copy!
on 2 September 2015
I was not disappointed. A delightful book. I picked this for my son's 11th birthday. He's really into nature, sci-fi and fantasy video games/books and drawing, so I thought it'd be helpful inspiration for the latter.
The introductory section is detailed and well-written (for an older audience than my son, of course) but Haeckel's images speak clearly without the need for explanation. The meticulous detail of the plates is astounding. Each page features a symmetrical arrangement of etchings of related species of various classes of organism. Expect to see pages devoted to seaweeds, seaslugs, jellyfish, crustaceans, bats, fish and reptiles for example. And while these are conceptually familiar, in Haeckel's rendering they are bizarre and other-worldly. The spatial arrangement of organisms enhances the feeling of design, which is evocative of Art Nouveau style or some William Morris wallpapers. There's a mix of monochromatic and exquisite colour images and the book itself is substantial.
I can't imagine anyone not being awed and fascinated by this collection of engravings. It could change the way you look at the natural world and is surely great inspiration for artists and designers. My son loved it.
on 19 February 2012
Having used the 1974 version of 'Art Forms in Nature' as a well-used reference for lots of art projects, I felt I would also use this. Which I have, but alongside my older one, as this edition does not have all the same prints, whilst this newer edition has some the old one doesn't. A great buy.
on 27 December 2012
Amazing drawings of exceptional detail, every time I look through it I see something I din't the time before.
Some people have bought it to give them inspiration in their drawings, which I'm sure it does, I bought it to see if it would give me inspiration to do some unusual woodworking pieces, it does that too.
Even if you're not an artist in any kind of medium be it pencil, paint, wood, clay or crayon, this is a book worth looking at and going 'ooooh' over.
on 3 March 2014
I was somewhat eager to hold in my hands a whole one hundred plates of this exquisite illustrator, but was initially annoyed and disappointed when I very quickly discovered that no text accompanied the myriad species and that no more than higher taxa (some now outdated) were mentioned for each plate (along with an end-section referencing them in other languages). It was almost offensive that hardly a single species was described and that everything seemed lost in a striking, but unnecessary confusion of forms. How dared the two contributors, O. Breidbach and I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, cut out Haeckel's words for their own interpretations?
But as I read them, I learned that nomenclature/taxonomy would do little to add content to the parade that are these illustrations: Haeckel blends all into all; plates feature mature medusozoans in the centre with their constituents (organs) along side them, larval echinoderms go along with immature ones, some parts are selected cuts of a part, hardly exemplifying the species as a "whole"--it's a bewildering rush that only the most interested, caring and focused can identify as actual stages/organs/parts of different organisms/species.
Imagine an illustrated book about H. s. sapiens, us, in which collar bones, the indentations of our ears, macro shots of irises, eyelashes, skin and hand palms are the selected images to represent our morphology--that, is the tune and theme of Art Forms in Nature. It is the beautiful ornamented nature, of nature.
Some of these depicted creatures defy the very sense of "visual art", dethroning the human mind as a unique "imaginator" (the radiolarians are exceptionally good at conveying this). The ultimate fact would be that every single thing here depicted is, indeed, a living being, or part of one.
The introductory pages, besides the preface, tackle different aspects of Haeckel, art and science. Breidbach directs himself towards contextualizing the reader to the interpretation of the plates as he unveils some of Haeckel's vision, life and influence. On the other hand, Eibl-Eibesfeldt is much more direct in his content, multiply referring and addressing recent (at the time) experiments on how we perceive form and why it is beautiful (Breidbach leans towards this too, at times).
This book is a fantastic feat that simply captivates with no regard for definition, I personally struggle at times in confusion, expectation and curiosity as I attempt to connect some of the images to species to learn their taxonomy. Again, the radiolarians are worth mentioning here as the illustrations made cause a very strong impression of the creatures that might not be what you would see yourself: Haeckel tore apart their cytoplasm to leave only their unbelievable architecture (not always symmetrical) in sight. Everything is large and wide and extensive. In it all there's a touch of exposition--it is made to impress. And it assuredly does.
However, as Eibl-Eibesfeldt remarks himself, Haeckel enhanced his illustrations, but they nevertheless hold true as depictions of the organisms. If you happen to read around that there is over-refinement and "super" symmetry, just google "Beroe" or "Bathocyroe" (both genera of ctenophorans) and be reassured that there are many creatures which are, in fact, astounding in their biological simplicity. Nature is ever-spreading, and so are its forms.
Art Forms in Nature transcends and then expresses both concepts, "science" and "art", unifying without measure what we persistently seek to take apart. It is a way of seeing and sensing the beautiful.
Note: I've noticed, only months later, that plate 84 (Diatomea) and 95 (Amphoridea) feature the same illustration, the error being on the former.