Ann Lapidus grew up exploring the art museums of Washington, D.C. When she was little, she remembers her mother rolling out shelving paper in the basement and letting her paint for hours. Although Lapidus continued creating art through high school, when college came around, she first chose to study art history. Eventually she received her BA in studio art. After a long road of travel and hard work, Lapidus is now a successful artist and teacher in Tucson, AZ. Her passion lies in abstract pieces, like In the Beginning, which was submitted to The Art of Planetary Science exhibition in 2019.
Growing up, did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
When I went to college, I really wanted to do abstract art. I studied a lot of art history instead, because I didn’t think that I could draw. I took all kinds of design classes and art classes that I enjoyed, but not anything to do with drawing. Then, one of my professors said that he wanted me to take his drawing class. I learned from him that drawing is basically hand-eye coordination. If you draw what you see and not what you think you’re seeing, you’ll be able to get the perspective and everything you need in there. I finally realized I could draw, that way.
What inspired you to make art related to planetary science?
I always loved science fiction. I look back, and I did all kinds of different of shapes, but I look back and there was always a recurring theme of space. I did take astronomy—people said it was a cake course, but it really wasn’t. When I start my paintings, I don’t know where I’m going. I like to do big paintings, so that sweeping gesture, the crescent moon is recurrent in a lot of my pieces. When I was painting In the Beginning, I decided that I wanted to do something that was a surprise. I wanted to create a painting where the center of the composition was sort of empty and the surroundings were shapes. I can think of a number of pieces that I have made that contain elements derived from space where I explored their spatial relationships.
You submitted your work in the fine art category, but how do you feel about art made from data?
It’s interesting, because my husband studied mathematics. He wrote and sold his math software for complex variables and differential equations. What he was doing at the time was helping people to visualize mathematics. When I was going to school I wish I had known that math could be beautiful. People talk about math being beautiful, but seeing the different equations rotated is space was interesting. I wish I had known that because it would have made me more interested in math. I think it would be good to let children know early on that images are made with math. It would interest children that might not be curious about math otherwise.
So, art can be an effective way to communicate about things like science and math?
It depends if people are visual learners. When my children were little, I used to take them to story time at the library. One librarian was reading to them a book about color. What he did, which you do in science too, was something magical. He just put drops of food coloring in water, but for them it was like magic, and it was wonderful. What he was doing was visually showing them what was happening with the colors. In painting, you see what happens when you mix this paint or that paint. A lot of the things I do are about observation, which is science as well. People don’t look very carefully, but in science it’s the little details that make or break things.
Do you think it’s important for scientists to communicate about their work?
Absolutely, because then it generates more ideas. I mean, that’s what’s good about being in an artist group. I’m getting exposure to other peoples’ work that I otherwise wouldn’t see, and that then generates new ideas. The more you brainstorm and see the more informed you are, as far as the direction you want to go; or, where you don’t want to go. One thing about the whole emphasis on science in school is that people don’t really write very well. I guess with art and science, it’s just whatever hook you can use to get their interest.
Is there anything you can think of to help people get started, in art or science?
With my artwork, I think about how everybody comes to art with their own background. So, when they look at the artwork, they’re bringing their experiences and stories to create what they’re going to want to see. A lot of people, when they look at abstract art, they want to see something. When I title things, I used to just title things Untitled A, Untitled B, Untitled C—well, that’s not helpful. I think people need a point of departure, as far as when they’re looking at something so abstract, so that they can ground themselves and create their stories from their experiences. The same is true with science—people need something to start with.
This interview was conducted in person | Image “In the Beginning” courtesy of Ann Lapidus and The Art of Planetary Science