Bacteria: artistic organisms or fodder for “Modern” art?

Bacteria As Art
Biophysicists Grow Pretty Bacteria In Petri Dishes To Find Antibiotics

The daily science news article can be found at:

But the real interesting stuff is at the arcane Dr. Eshel Ben-Jacob’s homepage:  This website displays both his artwork and a selection of his academic writing.  One particularly interesting paper, from which I selected the quotes of how bacteria make “existential” decisions and how their intrinsically aesthetic formations are evidence of high levels of communication, can be found here:

Here are my observations For Bacteria as Art:

–The “artistry” of the bacteria is resultant of communication with other bacteria…. And what is art other than communication?  Types of bacteria can sense their environment, adapt accordingly, and communicate adaptation to other parts of the colony: as Ben-Jacob writes, “So it is reasonable to conclude that collectively, bacteria can glean information from the environment and from other organisms and interpret the information in an existential “meaningful” way, i.e. by building an appropriate colony structure.”  Another useful quote: “The aesthetic beauty of these geometrical patterns [34,35] is striking evidence of an ongoing cooperation that enables the bacteria to achieve a proper balance of individuality and sociality as they battle for survival, while utilizing pattern-formation mechanisms that we have only recently begun to understand.” (both quoted from the paper hyperlinked above.)

–The constant re-adaptation of bacteria to avoid antibiotics could be comparable to the artist who constantly re-invents him/herself as a reaction to the present time and culture.  The aesthetics of bacteria are innovative, self-creating, and key to survival: the form is the function and vice-versa.

 –Where does art come from, and what does art create?  Culture!  You can almost say that bacteria can artistically create their own culture, and this culture nourishes the art as the art in turn nourishes the culture.

–To thrive and survive, bacteria must adapt their form to alter function, and in turn altering function changes their form.  This can be considered a beautiful relationship in terms of art, for it means these bacteria are obviously receptive to their environment and consequently shape themselves in reaction.  Aesthetically, they (theoretically) interpret stimuli, process it, and reorganize it through the medium of theirselves.

Some counterarguments for Against Bacteria as Art:

–Calling the bacteria art—does this necessarily imply an Artist? This opens up the Argument from Design or Teleological argument, how finding a watch implies a watchmaker.  From my knowledge, scientific discipline in general have been refuting this argument for centuries.

–Calling the bacteria art–does this mean the bacteria are artists of themselves?  Does this ability require the “existential” capability described by Dr. Ben-Jacob?  And, truly, can we rationally apply such a meaningful concept to micro-organisms?

–If we do consider bacteria artists of themselves, must we then consider the spider an artist of its web? The beaver an artist of its dam? The snail an artist of its shell? Isn’t there an element of self-awareness and reflection necessary in the artistic process which, frankly, is lacking from “lower” forms of consciousness?

–Dr. Ben-Jacob uses a computer program to “enhance” and color his samples… without this visual enhancement, would we still see the samples as beautiful?  Are bacteria intrinsic art pieces, or is Dr. Ben-Jacob making them into art? (In my opinion the two are mutually exclusive, that is, Ben-Jacob cannot claim bacteria are naturally artistic and also add his personal artistic effects to them.)  To say that anyone can frame any subject and, ipso facto, there we have an art-piece, is a cop-out.

–Even if they aren’t art, some poets think they are fit for artistic treatment: see W.H. Auden’s “New Year Greeting.”


And there we have “The End”.

Leave a Reply