What is Space Art?

Space Art” or “Astronomical Art”, is the genre of modern artistic expression emerging from knowledge and ideas associated with outer space, both as a source of inspiration and as a means for visualizing and promoting space travel.  Like other genres of artistic creation, Space Art has many facets and encompasses realism, impressionism, hardware, sculpture, abstract imagery, even zoological art.  Though artists have been making art with astronomical elements for a long time, the genre of Space Art itself is still in its infancy, having begun only when humanity gained the ability to look off our world and artistically depicted what we see out there.  Whatever the stylistic path, the artist is generally attempting to communicate ideas somehow related to space, often including an appreciation of the infinite variety, wonder, and vastness of the Universe which surrounds us.

The Cosmos contains many sources of visual inspiration that our growing abilities to gather and propagate has spread through the mass culture.  The first photographs of the entire Earth by satellites and manned Apollo missions brought a new sense of our world as an island in empty space and promoted ideas of the essential unity of Humanity.

If and when artists finally get to live and play in zero gravity conditions as part of a hoped for migration of Humanity beyond Earth, artistic expressions unknowable today will emerge.

For decades, practitioners of the visual arts have explored Space in their imaginations using traditional painting media. Many are now using digital media toward similar ends.  Science fiction magazines and picture essay magazines were once a major outlet for Space Art, often featuring planets, space ships and dramatic alien landscapes. Chesley Bonestell, R. A. Smith, Lucien Rudaux, and Ludek Pesek were some of the major artists in the early days of the genre actively involved in visualizing space exploration proposals with input from astronomers and experts in the infant rocketry field anxious to spread their ideas to a wider audience.  A strength of Bonestell’s work in particular was the portrayal of exotic worlds with their own alien beauty, often giving a sense of destination as much as of the technological means of getting there.

Astronomical or Space Art is largely an outgrowth of the artistic standards of Bonestell, and is an aspect of art whose primary emphasis is in giving the viewer visual impressions of alien and exotic places in the Cosmos.  There are several sub-genres of Space Art, each with their own unique characteristics.  As with any other form of artistic expression, a work of Space Art must be successful according to the standards of aesthetics and craftsmanship applied to any work from any artistic movement.  Here are the sub-genres of Space Art that the IAAA subscribes to as well as some art samples representing each genre.  All art is from the IAAA book The Beauty of Space and is used with permission, copyright belongs to each individual artist.

Descriptive Realism (aka “Rocks and Balls”).  The direct inheritor of the artistic standards of Lucien Rudaux and Chesley Bonestell, Descriptive Realism is an aspect of Space Art whose primary emphasis is to show a viewer a scientifically accurate visual depiction of alien places in the Cosmos.  

Cosmic Impressionism (aka “Swirly Art”).  Like works done in the impressionist era, Space Art works in the Cosmic Impressionism style use color and form to give a viewer the artist’s impression of the image subject matter without trying to be technically accurate, highly detailed, or adhering to known scientific principles.  Despite being more loose, the subject matter is still clearly inspired by space.

Hardware Art (aka “Nuts and Bolts”).  Hardware Art is usually similar to Descriptive Realism but focuses on the detailed depiction of the hardware of spaceships, probes, and equipment being used in a space setting.

Space Sculpture.  Works of Space Sculpture are more difficult to recognize as such as they are usually more symbolic or abstract in nature, like a rocket shape, stained glass windows representing stellar objects, or a sculptured work designed specifically for zero gravity display.  However, the prime inspiration for three dimensional works of Space Art is the same as other styles, space itself.

Cosmic Zoology.  Though the question of other life in the universe has yet to be answered, artists can speculate about it and imagine the possibilities.  Cosmic Zoology is the depiction of extraterrestrial life in extraterrestrial settings.

Astronomical Photography. Astronomical Photography is a form of extra-terrestrial photography, usually via space probes, where a photo is deliberately framed to place esthetic value over scientific value.

The term “Art in Space” describes another genre or artistic creation that uses the conditions and environment of space itself as part of its media, such as art created in free-fall, zero-gee sculpture, orbital plasma gas displays, and similar media.