Back to the Big Bang Exhibit by Rick Doble

Student name: Madeleine Reade-Lyons, Module name: Digital Arts Processes

Digital Arts Processes

Assignment two, presentation and essay

I will be presenting and researching a digital artist called Rick Doble. He was born in Sharon, Connecticut on July 24th 1944, four days after the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. He has been a digital artist for 15 years and a photographer for over 30.

He became enthralled with the stars in 1955, aged 11, and he bought an inexpensive telescope. His love of the stars became a lifelong passion and he is still learning about constellations and space today. At around the same time, his Mother bought him a microscope, thus introducing him to optics and lenses, which made photography easier to understand when he began to specialize in it at a later date.

In 1957, at the age of 13, he studied Einstein as explained by George Garnow in his book, One, Two, Three…Infinity. He was greatly interested in Einstein’s explanation of ‘the fourth dimension’ and he has used this theory in some of his photographic animations (see, the ‘States of Being’ personal GIF animations for further)

Specifically, I will be concentrating on Rick Doble’s ‘Live from the Big Bang’ series, which is a series of over 100 images created directly from the radio waves or, Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, of the Big Bang.

I wrote to Rick about his images asking him various, probably mind numbingly basic, questions about his work. These included what his inspiration was, how he captured the data, how he colourised it, did he prefer the colourised or embossed versions and so on…I use many of his responses in my essay and my presentation.

One of the important points he makes it that he finds the organic nature of his images the most fascinating aspect.

Below is an example of one such image with colour:


Rick Doble says ‘These Big Bang signals are the echo, or afterglow, of the single event that created the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, the planet Earth and ourselves. This online exhibit seeks to help bridge the gap between art and science.’

‘Enlarging them was the most exciting discovery. I was able to blow up small portions and maintain a considerable level of fine detail. Just like the Universe itself these pictures contain worlds within worlds, each fascinating in itself.’

George Garnow first predicted the existence of CMB radiation in 1948. He said that the Universe had been contracting for long ages and that, when it reached its limiting contraction of 10 to the 14th g/cc, or one hundred trillion times the density of water, it exploded. This is what we now know to be ‘The Big Bang’

NASA says ‘The Big Bang theory predicts that the early universe was a very hot place and that as it expands, the gas within it cools. Thus the universe should be filled with radiation that is literally the remnant heat left over from the Big Bang, called the “cosmic microwave background radiation”, or CMB.’ (

‘For nature is not merely present, but is implanted within things, distant from none; naught is distant from her...
The power of each soul is itself somehow present afar in the universe...’
(Giordano Bruno, Italian Philosopher, d. 1600)

NASA’s image explaining the CMB from the dawn of time

I would like to pick up on what Rick said about bridging the gap between science and art.

What he is saying there is important. To many people, myself included, art and science are two completely separate things and one does not become the other.

So I am left with a question:

Is something only ‘art’ when it is produced purely for the artistic and aesthetic properties of the piece?

It is widely accepted that, in order to interpret and understand a piece of art, some context is necessary. Context can include background information about the artist, historical reference, the environment of the artist and also their perspective on the artwork.

But, is one more important than the other in deciding if something is art? Is it the intention of the artist that makes it art or the perception of the viewer? I think that the perception of the viewer is more important in defining a piece as a ‘work of art’

To me, when I look at somebody’s work, I either have an emotional response to it or I don’t. If I don’t respond to a piece then, as far as I am concerned, it is not art.

When I look at Leonardo Da Vinci’s technical drawings of his flying machine or his war machine, or any other architectural plans for that matter, I appreciate their aesthetic properties far more than I do their conventional properties.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s War Machine

Indeed, all of Da Vinci’s technical drawings can now be bought in various forms purely for their artistic merit. I personally own a calendar, sadly it’s from 2003 so is now obsolete but I keep meaning to cut the images out and frame them!

This image of the architectural plans for the new St Pauls Cathedral is quite clearly a technical drawing. However, its linearity and simplicity attract me to the image. This may just be because I am absolutely fascinated by St Pauls, its rich history, dominant architecture and pure beauty. It is actually my favourite London building; it even beats Craven Cottage home to my beloved Fulham! That is art.

I truly believe that beauty, elegance and, in this case, artistic merit is in the eye of the beholder. You may not appreciate the plans of St Pauls in the way that I do and see them purely as the ‘artist’ intended them to be seen. That is science

Architectural plans of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Art Institute of Chicago began a year long course, Science, Art and Technology for the benefit of Public School teachers that wanted to look at the relationship between science and art.

‘Science and art naturally overlap. Both are a means of investigation. Both involve ideas, theories and hypotheses that are tested in places where mind and hand come together—the laboratory and studio. In ancient Greece, the word for art was techne, from which technique and technology are derived—terms that are aptly applied to both scientific and artistic practices.’ (Adapted from a lecture by Robert Eskridge entitled “Exploration and the Cosmos: The Consilience of Science and Art.”

Robert Eskridge is another exponent of the ‘science is art’ brigade.

So, because certain practices use the same technique, according to Robert Eskridge, that means they can be considered complementary to each other? Well, both a coroner and a surgeon have the same basic medical training but I know which one I would prefer to do my appendix operation!

Looking further into the subject I discovered that two UCLA professors, media and net artist Victoria Vesna and nanoscience pioneer James Gimzewski, have created a huge project, Nano, to again try and fuse art and science, or if not fuse it, at least change peoples thinking a little. Their project, which is at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, shows the world of nanoscience through a participatory experience.

‘The exhibition seeks to provide a greater understanding of how art, science, culture and technology influence each other. Modular, experiential spaces using embedded computing technologies engage all of the senses to provoke a broader understanding of nanoscience and its cultural ramifications. The various components of "nano" are designed to immerse the visitor in the radical shifts of scale and sensory modes that characterize nanoscience, which works on the scale of a billionth of a meter. Participants can feel what it is like to manipulate atoms one by one and experience nano-scale structures by engaging in art-making activities.’ (

Layout of NANO exhibition


In this installation, people walk through the various exhibits, which allows them to see and experience nanoscience. It is not just seeing as in an art gallery though; it is feeling the exhibit, the senses stimulated by the whole space, being part of the atoms and then being able to participate in manipulating the exhibit. So, in this way, art and science are in collaboration and one does become the other.

On the issue of art and science Rick Doble says, ‘One of my goals as a contemporary artist has been to create connections with modern science.’

He also explains his thoughts behind the theme of patterns, that is a feature of much of his work (see for the exhibits Snowflakes and Totem Poles) ‘As an artist I have always been fascinated by complex patterns and have studied the paintings and drawings of Jackson Pollock and WOLS quite carefully. In 1970 I spent four days absorbing the wonderful and visionary designs that cover the walls of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. In addition I looked at Bentley's snowflakes for many years before I decided to add color to them. I also studied the intricate paintings of Paul Klee, the deluge and cloudburst drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer and spent quite a few hours experimenting with moiré patterns’ (

Rick goes on to say that many artists tend to avoid patterns except for use as a background. A movement that made more use of patterns purely for their decorative nature was the Art Nouveau movement from the late 19th, early 20th centuries. This is also another example of art and science (in this case the science of nature) being melded together in a complementary way.

‘Life is made up of patterns, from the blood cells in our veins, to traffic flow in a city, to cloud formations. All material is made up of microscopic patterns that show how that material is constructed and held together. And our lives over time are filled with patterns; from morning to evening we repeat and repeat day after day. Without these patterns life would not be possible.’ (

I believe there are a number of reasons that Rick has produced his images. Firstly, purely for their artistic merit. They can stand alone as vibrant absorbing images without one having any idea of their context and how they came into being. Rick also enjoys exploring, pushing the boundaries of art, photography and even science. He believes that photographers should actually take ‘bad’ images, just to see what turns out. He says we should purposely blur images, under and overexpose them and do things that, as a photography student, you spend years learning not to do. Furthermore, I believe, he wants to make people think about the link between science and art and how there can be some areas that are definable as either/or.

All things, by immortal power,
Near or far,
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling a star.
(Francis Thompson (d. 1907), Oriental Ode)

It doesn’t end here either! Rick sent me details of a proposal that he is trying to get funding for and it is a very exciting installation using his Big Bang data.

This is one of his ideas:

A Big Bang Maze

After entering the maze a participant would see very fine images of the Big Bang on the walls of the maze. He or she then walks on further into the maze and the images are enlarged so you can see the amazing organic detail of them. Rick has enlarged his images up to 100 times and they often produce patterns that repeat yet are not repetitions. At the centre of the maze would be a room containing a live display of lights and sounds from the Big Bang signals at that particular moment in time.

The aim of this exhibit is to unite art and science and to allow the participant to experience the Big Bang as something living and ongoing. It is not merely an event that happened millions of years ago. Its waves and ripples can be heard and felt still.

This essay and the required research has forced me to look at the issues of science and art and I can see now that certain parts of the two practices do overlap and complement each other. For instance, I have previously mentioned that I think Rick’s images can stand on their own as art. However, through researching the production of the images, I have discovered that they have come into being by scientific means. Not only are they based in astronomy but also satellite technology is used to capture the raw CMB. Computer technology is used to ‘stain’ them and produce the images you see today. Lastly, computer technology in the form of the World Wide Web is used to show us these images.

In conclusion, I am pleased to report that I have changed my mind somewhat about the science and art issue. While there are still things, especially in ‘modern art’ that are quite clearly technology and not at all aesthetic, that does not mean that they would not be considered art by some people. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Furthermore, Rick’s images distinctly and elegantly combine art, science and technology in a fusion that is energetic, and exciting but so detailed and intricate. It is a combination that really works.


Christiane Paul – Digital Art (2003)

Many quotes in my essay are direct responses to myself from Rick after I emailed him


George Garnows Big Bang theory taken from

NB: My research is not limited to the above mentioned. I researched various books and over 30 sites but only chose to use information from, or quote from the above as it was most relevant.