Betelgeuse and a Bee

We can’t predict the future.

But, in some cases, we can make fairly accurate estimations for situations that are extremely likely to occur, thanks to diligent research and hard science.

Betelgeuse, the red and brightest star in the constellation of Orion in the night sky, may be barely perceptible to the naked eye, but this cosmic orb is actually a super massive, unstable star reaching the end of its life, and ready to explode. It could be tomorrow, it could be a million years from now. But one day, it will happen, just as sure as our own Sun will die. Betelgeuse will grow, and grow, using up the very last stores of its energy, and will explode in a fantastically cataclysmic supernova. It will shine like a second Sun. We may as yet be lucky enough to witness such a spectacle, and we are, thankfully, some 430 light-years out of harm’s way.

Image result for betelgeuse
But not every scientific prediction and eventuality can be so epic and so benign to us as the fate of Betelguese. The humble bumblebee, an annoying summer visitor to some, a problem-solving, dancing, geometry-wielding genius to others, has a fate that seems to be hanging in the balance, very much as the stability of the red star in the heavens. Yet the fate of the bumblebee is much closer to home.

Bumblebees have seen a dramatic drop in their population levels, with as much of a third of their US populations having decreased in recent years (http://www.globalresearch.ca/death-and-extinction-of-the-bees/5375684). Bees are not only vital pollinators, allowing countless species of plants and flowers to pollinate and reproduce, but they are also an important part of our own elaborate food chain. From honey in its raw form to soaps, lip balms, syrups and more, bees have been powerful contributors to our desire for sweet tastes, soft skin and juicy lips.

But at what price? Climate change, growing use of harmful pesticides and invasion of foreign species are speeding up the crisis bees face, but ultimately we may be their biggest threat. It’s difficult to predict how soon such a population could crash, whether it is a local crash, or restricted to vulnerable populations or even entire countries. A small, colony-dwelling animal such as a bee is no doubt hard to study, and hard to calculate in terms of accurate numbers and breeding success. With only handfuls of dedicated beekeepers to help with the maths, once again it seems science can only predict what may be around the corner.

I’m not suggesting we throw away that little jar of honey that we love to spoon into our cereal, or to soothe a sore throat after a rough winter, all I am suggesting is that we stop, step back and switch of the lights. Crane your neck up, as high as you can, and see if you can spot Orion among the tango-haze of light pollution. Next time you hear the soft bzzzzzz coming towards your eye, don’t flap your hands to shoo it away. Stay still, stay calm, and take a look.

The Expanding Universe of Art

How is one supposed to feel, knowing that we, on our pinprick of our blue planet, in our speck of dust under the cosmic carpet of our milky way, are hurtling through space and towards infinity, with absolutely no consolation except the knowledge that it’s actually happening.

I guess in a way, the art world is like an expanding universe. As soon as you get sucked in to it, it seems like there’s a never-ending, spinning web of ideas, styles, names, name-dropping, brush-bashing and social media platforms that making your impact in it seems infinitely impossible. The more time goes on, the more new -isms crawl out of the woodwork, and all of a sudden your left wondering where your place in the art universe is. The further away the galaxy from us, the faster it appears to be moving. Just as distant ideas and desires appear to be slipping away before we can ever hope to grasp them. As distance grows, speed increases.

Universe Milky Way Watercolour Painting

But I think that, in the same way that there’s no true centre of the universe, only your perspective within it, there’s no universal law for art. There is nothing to stop us being the artist we want to be, or choosing any one of the multitude of paths we conceived for ourselves. The more we know about art and our universe, the more power we have within it, however slight. We have to admit though, that certain things are well beyond our control. By the non-randomness of particles slamming together at just the right distance from the sun, a lot of it is really down to luck.

And just as the universe, by some incomprehensible miracle, started from a single, infinitely small point (a singularity), art started in the same way. Long, long before we first painted in the caves, or scratched angular marks into a mammoth bone or reindeer antler, long before we even contemplated our sense of being, the spark was there. The one, fleeting, chance coming together of nothing, created everything.

Expanding Universe Watercolour Painting
Expanding Universe, Watercolours – Even the world’s largest land animal is tiny and insignificant against the cosmic background!

It was nothing but non-random luck, that Stephen Hawking happened to be the surprising inspiration behind this blog post, and this painting of elephants against the milky way, though I am sure I didn’t do the expanding universe justice.

All paintings featured in this blog post are for sale unless otherwise specified. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

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