JINS 331: The Chemistry of Art
Last Update: August 25, 2006
The Chemistry of Art is a writing-enhanced, junior-level interdisciplinary course. In this course, we will examine the interaction and manipulation of matter (chemistry) in order to form an aesthetically pleasing form (art). Each of these subjects is much too broad to cover in one semester, so we will focus on the chemistry of paintings and glasses and ceramics. All three of these subjects rely on color to express the artist’s message, which gives us a logical jumping off point. Therefore, we will begin with the interaction of light and matter to produce color (molecular level) and move on to color mixing using both additive and subtractive methods (macroscopic level). After our study of color, we will examine paintings on a layer-by-layer basis. We’ll begin with the supports (paper, canvas, wood, etc.), move on to paints (the synthesis and use of both pigments and binders), examine the special case of frescos, and then move on to other types of art which include the use of dyes, glasses, and ceramics. Finally, we will finish the semester by discussing some of the techniques that art historians and conservators use to establish the authenticity of different works of art (carbon dating, IR spectroscopy, X-Ray techniques, etc.).