Friday, May 07, 2010

Feynman vs Rembrandt

The Novel-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman was born on May 11, 1918. In May, therefore, he is "the physicist of this month." The May-2010 issue of APS News [1] carries, on its first page, the sketch of a young lady under the title, "Who created this drawing?" The second and last sentence of its caption makes the reader go to page 5.

On page 5, we find a short article with a witty title, "Feynman drew more than diagrams," and a photo. The photo shows four more drawings and two persons, APS President Curtis Callan and his colleague Igor Klebanov. The article explains the followings: The drawing on page 1 was done in 1985 by celebrated Caltech physicist Richard Feynman and that it is one of several that are now at Princeton in the possession of Callan. The works were acquired in the mid-eighties by Princeton, where Feynman had been a graduate student, and were kept in the office of the late Sam Treiman, from whom Callan received them.

The bottom line of the article is as follows:
In the opinion of experts, Feynman was at least as good at drawing as Rembrandt was at physics.
This sentence seems to imply in a humorous manner that Feynman's drawings are pretty mediocre from the viewpoint of experts. To be sure about this, we have to see to what extent Rembrandt studied physics.

In the description of Wikipedia [2], we find that Rembrandt attended Latin school and was enrolled at the University of Leiden. However, he soon apprenticed to painters and then opened a studio at the age of 18 or so. Therefore, it might be safe to conclude that Rembrandt learned little about physics.

From cautiousness, I made Internet search by the combination of the words Rembrandt and physics; and found the article [3] entitled "The Rembrandt Solution" (the report does not include the word "physics," but one of comments on it does). It is about a technique developed by Rembrandt and other painters and called countershading. This technique creates the illusion of greater dynamic range of light intensities in their paintings than in real scenery. Illusion is the sensory distortion of the physical world. In order to utilize the effect of illusion, painters should know about the relationship between the nature of human senses and physical signals. Then, Rembrandt must have had sharp physical insight. Namely, Rembrandt's drawing technique makes us think that he was fairly adept at physics.

How can we argue about Feynman's goodness at drawing from his physics, conversely? Does his famous invention of Feynman diagrams prove the quality of his artistic skill? This seems to be difficult, though the invention at least indicates that his method of thinking was geometric as well as analytic. Is there any decent idea about this? I expect comments from readers.
  1. APS News, Vol. 19, No. 5 (2010).
  2. "Rembrandt," Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (6 May 2010 at 00:13).
  3. G. Randall, "The Rembrandt solution: What painting’s grand masters can teach today’s digital photographers" (2009).