We can often see art that is influenced by science, be it in paintings, music, novels or movies. But has any idea from the arts ever influenced a scientist to come up with a new discovery or idea?
It is plausible, albeit not proved, that cubism provided some inspiration for quantum mechanics. Arthur Miller argued strongly that cubism helped Niels Bohr develop the complementarity principle in quantum mechanics. Bohr had read the book by Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes on cubist theory, "Du Cubisme", and later had Metzinger's painting "La Femme au Cheval" in his office. See Schinckus for a recent discussion of Miller's claim.
Materials science and engineering is one area where there is a small but steady stream of research inspired by historical art. The two- and three-dimensional patterns and shapes in this art can have interesting and useful structural properties. Here are a few examples:
- "Between Science and Art: Thin Sound Absorbers Inspired by Slavic Ornaments".
- "Hybrid Nanogels-Based Printable Tattoos Inspired by Lady Costume from Tang Dynasty for Monitoring Solar UV Radiation"
- "Writable and patternable organic solar cells and modules inspired by an old Chinese calligraphy tradition"
- "Bistable auxetic mechanical metamaterials inspired by ancient geometric motifs"
- "Kirigami Design and Modeling for Strong, Lightweight Metamaterials"
Of course, the most obvious possible source of artistic inspiration for science is science fiction in both books and film. H.G. Wells inspired several leading scientists. Leo Szilard implied that H.G. Wells "The World Set Free" provided at least background inspiration for his work on the neutron chain reaction. Wells also inspired Robert Goddard, who in 1932 wrote to Wells saying
In 1898 I read your War of the Worlds. I was sixteen years old … and I decided that what might conservatively be called ‘high-altitude research’ was the most fascinating problem in existence. The spell did not break, and I took up physics ...