The Flow of Fluid and Art

Rivers, oceans and geometric forms have always attracted artists because the universe around us is always changing and is always on the move. From clouds moving in the sky to waters moving in rivers, there’s dynamics everywhere. Rivers flow down from the mountains into the ocean. The currents in the ocean circulate in loops and gyres because of the differences in temperature. The fundamentals of this movement are the same in a coffee cup and in a tropical cyclone.

In China, poets during the times of the Tang Dynasty sat for days, contemplating the movement that they could observe in the universe. Painters for centuries have been trying to depict the flow of the water and capture its energy. They were stunned by the same movements and phenomena that captivated Leonardo da Vinci when he was sketching flowing water in the fifteenth century. All of these attempts tried to express the organization that artists saw behind the seemingly random and turbulent flow. Artists saw patterns and realized what scientists have later proven, that flowing water is not just chaos but a structured combination of order and disorder.

When you look at the sketches of Leonardo da Vinci, you will see that he was focused on the structure and the drawings of water look a bit too regular. They do not match what really happens in a flow of fluid.

Art historian Martin Kemp called Da Vinci’s images structural intuitions. In order to really see and analyze the structure of flow, it is necessary to slow the flow down, which is not something that the artists were able to do several centuries ago. Most flows of fluids in nature have a lot of turbulence, which means that with the naked eye it is only possible to see the glimpses of the structure. If, however, you are able to look at the same flow at a much slower speed, the patterns become obvious.