Science and art are closely intertwined subjects that have helped each other improve in a mutualistic relationship for numerous centuries. During the renaissance, many polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci studied the two subjects in tandem. Science inspires art by providing beautiful and complex subject matter; when viewing problems through an artistic lens, scientists discover innovative solutions. Fungi has become the source of inspiration for countless artists of a plethora of crafts including music and visual arts such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, and architecture. Though fungi and art may seem dissimilar, they connect in far more ways than expected.
Fungi has prompted many artists to create music as an inspiration, instrument, and influence. Fantastic Fungi: Reimagine is a two volume album created by various artists to explore themes centered around the healing, sustaining, and regenerating nature of the mycelium network across the earth.
Bursting with energy, fungi can even be used to create music. Through the use of a MIDI biodata sonification device, electrical fluctuations are recorded by sensors, which are generally attached to the cap of the mushroom. The electrical data is then translated into MIDI notes that can be played by a synthesizer or computer software.
Psilocybin, a psychedelic compound found in certain mushrooms, has a profound impact on brain activity. Use of these compounds peaked in the sixties and seventies and several famous musicians, including The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, attributed their zany lyrics to them. The “Psychedelic Era” was launched and swirling, colorful visuals became a hallmark of the artistic and cultural movement. Through the influence of this era, new techniques emerged and the recording industry was revolutionized. In particular, “Revolver” by The Beatles featured tape looping, reversed guitars, vocal effects and altered speeds; techniques that rarely, if ever, had been used before.
Within the world of visual arts, fungi can be found as both mediums and subjects. Materials for sculpture are being crafted from mycelium; the branching, root-like hyphae of a fungus. This offers a sustainable, environmentally-friendly option to artists while providing symbolism to pieces. New experiments utilizing mycelium bricks for construction are occurring at art galleries such as MoMA PS1 in New York. There, a 40ft (12m) tall tower was constructed out of these bricks, which were formed by mixing sliced corn husks and mycelium in a mold and leaving the mixture to grow for five days. Many species of fungi can be used to create natural dyes for textiles like fabric and yarn. Phaeolus schweinitzii, for example, can stain a variety of warm, yellowy tones. The pigment extracted from fungi can be isolated in powdered form and be pressed into pastels and chalks or be suspended in a water or oil based binder to create paints.
Mushrooms, the fruiting body of a fungus, are beautiful in structure. Fungi exist in incredible diversity with endless unique shapes, sizes, and colors. This, along with their historical and cultural symbolism, makes them the ideal subject for artists. In both scientific illustration and imaginative pieces, fungi are depicted frequently in visual art around the world. The art of fungal photography, much like illustration, sits in the “renaissance” cross section as it can both inform and inspire. Professionals and amateurs alike can find joy in capturing stunning photographs of fungi.