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My favorite place in the world to be is underwater. My second favorite place is the front of a classroom.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Drawing Electricity from the Sky

Examine Benjamin West's painting, Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky (1805). You may access this painting via the following link: http://www.frankelec.com/west_fullsize.htm. You can also find the painting on page 87 of your yellow American Literature book. After spending a few moments with the painting, please respond to one or more of the following questions:

1. What do you think the artist is trying to achieve in this painting? Consider the sometimes clashing roles of science and religion and how they function in this painting.
2. What are your reactions to the elements of this painting? Do you think science and religion can work side by side? Does one dominate the other?
3. What do you think Benjamin Franklin thought of this portrait of himself?

27 Comments:

Blogger Monique R said...

1. I think Benjamin West is trying to say that science gets more media and attention because it is more exciting, but behind every great scientific discovery is a basis in religion. I think it could also be saying that just because people don't acknowledge the religion side of life it isn't there. Benjamin Franklin doesn't see the religious figures in the background of the painting, so it's like he isn't acknowledging them but they are still there, influencing his discovery.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Jessica K said...

2. This painting shows that religion is helping scientific discoveries along. The religious figures in the backround are holding the string for Franklin showing that religion does play a part in science. However the fact that Franklin doesn't notice the religious figures behind him shows that religion does help but doesn't get any of the credit. The science takes the lead where both should be credited for. The painting does show religion and science working together but science will be the one up front in the spotlight.

3:50 PM  
Blogger erinl said...

I think this painting is saying science and religion can work side by side, through Benjamin Franklin. I think this painting shows that Benjamin Franklin connects the two because he invented electricity and established the University of Pennsylvannia, but at the same time he also made a virtue chart so he could become a better man. Now a days, I believe science is more dominant because people seem much more interested in the future than in the past (where their religion comes from). I think Benjamin Franklin would be pleased with this painting. He connects the two, therefore, he is being virtuous while at the same time brilliant.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Alyssag said...

Immediatly when I saw this picture, I thought of God as the lightning. For some reason, I picture God up in the clouds commanding teh bolts of lighting to beam down. On that note, I believe that Ben Franklin is saying that if we use the power of God (in this picture, the power is the lightning bolts), then we can make all sorts of scientific discoveries by working hand in hand with the discoveries of religion.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Kelly O said...

I think Benjamin West was trying to show that science is influenced by religion even if people do not acknowledge it. I agree with Jessica in that religion helps science at times. In the painting, the religious figures are helping Ben Franklin discover electricity. The fact that he doesn't notice them shows that religion may not be credited, but it can still help in scientific discoveries. Also, the title "Electricy from the Sky" says that the discovery of electricity came from the sky. When things are said to come from the sky, I always associate them with God.

7:35 PM  
Blogger kaitlinb said...

2) It is a painting that mixes rationalism and romanticism, realism and imagination. Thus it does allow religion to work with science. The painting says that angles are using the powere of electricity to their approval. I personally so not believe or agree with putting angles with technology they are a seperate and un comparable thing.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Sarah P said...

i think that that he was trying to portray that in sience, even thr most human of aspects can be seen. And that all science is to help the greater good of mankind.

By having those little kids or babies in the background playing with that science expiriment, i think that that is supossed to show that everyone and anyone can be involved in the creation of science, it brings together a little of romanticism and rationalism i think.

8:12 PM  
Blogger shannon a said...

I feel that the artist is trying to show that science and religion work together. My reactions were that the angles (religios figures) in the backround are holding the string for Ben Franklin showing that for him religion guids him. Ben is coming up with the idea but the religious figures are guiding his discovery. This is because Franklin is in the light and the religious figures are in the background helping him out.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Jordyn S said...

I see struggle within this picture. The 'angels' are holding onto the string and it seems as they are pulling away from Benjamin Franklin who is facing the opposite way as if to say that he was breaking away from foolish romanticist ideas and came up with this electricity soley on his own. There is significance in the fact that although the 'angels' greatly outnumber this one man, Ben's hand is right below the key, as if he posesses almost 'perfection' without a religion and the light coming out of the key is a representation of how close he is, but how dangerously far away he is as well due to his intolerance. The red cloak could possibly be all the things that Ben feels that hehas sacrifised to become virtually perfect altough it is still wrapped around him like a reminder, while the 'angels' pay not attention to it as if to assert dominance. Ben Franklin obviously represents rationalism, while the celestial beings represent romanticism, both exist in the painting as they to in real life, and though they may be dependent upon eachother to get things done, their inability to turn and face eachother for once and to break the barrier between the two will only continue to weigh the other down.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Spencer Z said...

This painting to me is extremely powerful and represents that religion and science can and must live in harmony. Emerson alludes to this in "Nature", "Standing on the bare ground... I am part or particle of G-d" (Emerson). The truly enlightened is able to understand nature without loosing its beauty. The image of the Christian cherubs no doubt made the ideas conveyed in this poem more acceptable, and I imagine that Ben Franklin, a rationalist, would approve of it.

I agree with some of what Jordyn had to say as regards the conflict between science and religion, but I believe that the Cherubs are made to represent a Christian, societal understanding of religion and not the "greater being" of a harmonious nature which Franklin seems to be working with in the painting.

9:21 PM  
Blogger OfAThousandSuns said...

I think that the artist might be achieving a bridge between science and religion. I think this because of the people (babies) in the background and the way that Ben is so prophetically looking towards the sky. Oftentimes I have seen the babies thing in religous portraits. I think that Ben Franklin would have considered this portrait of himself to be an epic tribute to his contributions to science.

6:24 AM  
Blogger BessieS said...

I think Benjamin West is trying to convey to the reader that science and religion go hand in hand. Since Benjamin West is in the foreground and is the main focus I think he is saying that science sometimes over powers and takes priority over religion, but sometime in the past religion influenced science allowing it to progress.

7:15 AM  
Blogger clay w said...

1. The artist is trying to convey the fact that when science, religion, and art merge, wonderful things happen. Science, religion, and art all have their benefits and by combining science in the form of electricity with religion in the form of angels, the artist shows this through art and gives the viewer a feeling of peace that if these things work together toward the same goal, it can almost always be accomplished.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Anoel said...

I strongly believe that the age old religion vs science debate is way overplayed. Science and religion comlpete each other, explaining what the other cannot. In this portrait religion and science work together, as is represented by the cherubs and Ben Franklin working in harmony. I also thought that since electricity originates from lightning that the artist may be trying to link nature and science. Nature can be both religious and scientific, I just believe it depends on how you look at it.

11:27 AM  
Blogger nathan a said...

Ben Franklin was probably more of a rationalist then a religious man as can be seen in sarcastic quotes such as "God helps those who help themselves." However, he would probably agree that science and religion can co-exist. It could be argued that they add to each other. But it’s important to realize that science changes every year. New discoveries change the "facts" year to year. The majority of these changes make our understanding brighter rather then dimmer; changes will have been discovered in 20 years.

12:11 PM  
Blogger emilee p said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:13 AM  
Blogger emilee p said...

1.) I think that the artist is trying to show that there has always been conflict between science and religion. Benjamin Franklin seems to be working along other scientists in his discovery. However, behind Franklin the cherubs are ultimately flying the kite and controlling the outcome of the experiment. You might also notice that the cherubs are bigger than the scientists, but not bigger than Franklin. Do you think that this was done deliberately? I can see how the artist might want to show that God is behind every great invention.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Erin G said...

I think that the artist was trying to portray that science is blind to religion. Ben Franklin's position facing away from the angels shows this. Science is thought of as opposing religion and maybe sometimes trying to "rip it's" ideas apart. Also, the angels are standing while Franklin is sitting, blind to their efforts. This shows that religion works towards science, but this would not be heard of.

4:01 PM  
Blogger J Hunt said...

I agree that the artist is trying to show that science and religion work together. I find it intersting that the cherub behind Franklin is flying the kite rather than Franklin flying it. It could represent that it was God's doing that he had the idea to try his expirement. With His help Franklin was able to successfuly do the experiment and survive the strike of lightning. I think that Franklin would aprove of it and agree with the ideas that are shown.

12:37 PM  
Blogger christine b. said...

I think that Benjamin Franklin disliked this painting because in it, he is portrayed as a heroic, god-like figure. Because he is portrayed as god-like, the painting gives him an element of perfection. According to his thoughts in the autobiography we read in class, he seemed to classify himself as less than perfect, at least until he conquered all of his moral goals. I think that he would have disliked being portrayed as so powerful and perfect when he really does not resemble this at all.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Megan D said...

I think that this painting is showing how even though science is powerful, religeon is just as powerful, if not more. Religeon is contributing to the discoveries of science, even if it isn't apparent at first. It's there, in the backround, but it is the backbone of science. It has to be there for science to even exist.

1:29 PM  
Blogger mackenzieL said...

In this painting I think that the artist is trying to show how science and religion work together, not whether they are able to. I also think that the artist is trying to show how new ideas come to be. In the painting, there are two prominent figures behind Benjamin Franklin; one is what could be considered an angel, and the other is dressed in very modern, “in-style” clothes for that time. I think that these two figures symbolize what spurs scientific discoveries. The angel symbolizes religion, and the other the modern age. Almost what Monique said, religion, or more specifically, God, is behind the new discoveries that man makes which is influenced by the modern world.

1:48 PM  
Blogger EmilyL said...

I'll take a stab at being the Devil's Advocate:

To me, the painting is not advocating science and religion working together, but is rather, in agreement with Enlightenment ideals, arguing that science is hampered by religion. The placement of both light and darkness is significant: a beam of light shines on Franklin and the key (representing science and logic), while the cherubs (representing religion) are shrouded in darkness. If viewed through an Enlightenment lens, the painting states that religion causes stagnation in society (such as during the Dark Ages) but scientific, rational thinking (represented by Franklin) will bring society to new heights and advancements.

8:57 PM  
Blogger jessicam said...

My first reaction to this painting was that it is extremely interesting. I can definitely see how this painting could also be very controversial. Benjamin Franklin never seemed to work alongside with any specific religion, yet here he is working with angels.
To address the second question, I think that science and religion can work side by side only in certain circumstances. For example, the teaching of evolution in school does nt coincide with creationism very well. When it comes to certain forms of research however, I think it can be said that the progress could be 'divinely assisted.' It really depends on the person running the project and their specific religious beliefs.
As far as domination, I don't think that one specifically dominates another. They are both extremely important, just in different ways. Science is important in advancing the future of our races and cultures. Religion on the other hand, roots us to our history and beliefs. It is where we come from, and forms the cultures that science works with.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Lauren F. said...

I agree with what most of the people have already stated; that this painting is showing the compatibility between religion and science. Many scientific based people do not like to bring religion into the works, but behind all of the new discoveries, I think that some kind of religious aspect was present. When a new experiment is tested, some will pray to a higher being for a success. Religion helps with all of the scientific journeys.

6:40 PM  
Blogger ryan f said...

Sorry that I have been so late on all of the recent blogs, my internet has been down so I feel that it would be a waste of time and space for me to repeat what everyone else has said. Therefore, I am going to agree/disagree with others comments. Lauren F. basically sums up exactly what I was thinking in response to this picture. Science and religion are two subjects that aren’t commonly referenced in one specific instance, making this picture very controversial, like Jessica M. said. At the same time, Emily L. makes a very good point, and in my mind, it makes more sense than what everyone else has said. Artists use color to convey a particular image and the fact that Emily was able to revert focus to the different colors, shows the painting in a whole new light. Although I don’t agree with what the artist is trying to convey, I believe that Emily L. already wrote exactly what I think the artist is trying to represent.

8:57 PM  
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6:38 AM  

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