When Art and Outer Space Collide

I’m sitting here in the studio shaking my head in wonderment. My cosmos is revolving — spinning in such a dramatic fashion that all I can do is gasp and shake my head.

First, for those who might be fairly new followers, let me explain about that “revolving cosmos.” Many years ago I had a good friend who shared that expression with me. It refers to those times in life when things happen in synchronicity — odd coincidences happen everywhere around us, words and topics keep coming to our attention, things somehow seem to be arranging themselves around us, all for the purpose, perhaps, of helping us learn or grow, for showing us things we need to see.

Oh, yes, indeed, my cosmos is revolving, and quite fittingly it’s revolving around outer space. It’s all about interstellar inspirations, expanding creativity through research, learning of the grandiosity of the universe, and then — this all happening only two days after NASA’s latest “rover” touched down on Mars — picking up an art magazine only to find this headline staring back at me:

When Art and Outer Space Collide

Art and outer space have been colliding here for me all day — I just finished writing my “blogiversary post” a few minutes ago — so I have to accept that there’s something here I need to learn, something I should pay close attention to. Or maybe just something interesting I should read and share. I don’t know why the cosmos is so determined that I see and explore connections between art and outer space, but that’s half the fun of those moments when the cosmos revolves.

Now, let me throw out a far-fetched question: Can we paint what we’ve never seen?

There is much to be said for imagination, of course. Fantasy authors and artists create elaborate worlds with alien creatures, new philosophies, and flora and fauna never seen here on our planet earth. So, in that respect, yes, we can paint anything we can imagine.  No one can challenge our perceptions. Our make-believe world is ours alone.

But what about space? What about the stars? What about the moon? We see these astronomical sites each day and night, but from a considerable distance. Does that mean we can paint them accurately? It’s an interesting question to ponder.

This question leads us right to Alan Bean, a NASA astronaut who retired in 1981 so that he could devote his time to painting. During his eighteen years with NASA, he visited a different world; he has seen sights that no other artists have viewed with their own eyes. He has experienced thoughts and feelings about space that we earth-bound artists will never have. Bean hoped to express these thoughts and to share his experiences through art.

In the illustration here, Bean is at his easel working on a painting titled “Rock ‘n’ Roll on the Ocean of Storms”. You can see the completed painting and hear Alan Bean tell its story at his gallery. 

It’s fascinating to listen to him talk about “Rock 12051”, its measurements, and its meaning as part of our history.


But… are Bean’s depictions of the moon real? Maybe not. Maybe the moon is not quite the way he depicted it in his art. Bean says he wanted to add color to the moon.

I had to figure out a way to add color to the moon without ruining it…if I were a scientist painting the moon, I would paint it gray. I’m an artist, so I can add colors to the moon.”

Bean painted in acrylics and used actual moon dust in his paintings, making them among the most unique artworks in history. He also added small pieces of his NASA patches to his paintings, and he used a hammer — one used to pound the flagpole into the lunar surface — and a bronzed boot to add texture to his paintings. When you enlarge these paintings, you can clearly see these textural marks.

In July 2009, for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Bean exhibited his lunar paintings at the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. 

He made another comment:

…I’m the only one who can paint the moon, because I’m the only one who knows whether that’s right or not.  — Alan Bean —

I take exception to this statement, and herein lies the answer to a question that’s been nagging at me. Why am I suddenly being exposed to so much information about art and space? Why is the cosmos revolving to bring this to my attention? In short, what’s the message here for me? What I am supposed to learn from this?

The answer is two-fold. We may be uniquely qualified to paint certain things, to share certain experiences, to show aspects of life that others may not have the opportunity to see. Yet that doesn’t override our role as artists. While our drawings and paintings are expressions of our experiences, we can still paint in our own style, choosing our own colors, creating in our own way.

The moon’s surface is gray. Alan Bean tells us this. At the same time, he tells us that he wanted to add color. As an artist, he has that right. But I don’t believe he has the right to claim exclusivity when it comes to painting the moon. Experience is valuable, but maybe imagination is even more so.

So this is what I’m taking away from this “close encounter” with the realms of space. It’s good to explore, good to see the world from unique perspectives, and good to recognize the imaginative side of art. It’s not just about painting what we know or where we’ve been. It’s about bringing our personal expression into our art.

UPDATE: I just learned that Scholastic Press has a book available for young readers. Check out The Astronaut Who Painted The Moon.


  1. This post would make Carl Jung, a Swiss Psychiatrist, founder of the school of analytical psychology happy with her article,as he proposed and developed the concepts of extroverted;and he explained gthat in all chaos there is a cosmos, inall disorder a secret, and he created the word synchroncity to describe the “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events he spoke of through synchroncity. This post is profound and deeper than theAtlantic Ocean!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly! I am very much a “fan” of Jung and his ideas on collective unconscious and other topics. Coincidences… well, I prefer to see them in terms of synchronicity, and I do believe it’s important that we “tune in” and listen!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hahaha — he’s the only one that can paint the moon because he’s been there! What a crock!

    Painting has *always* been about an individual artist’s interpretation of a specific subject, which is one of the things I love about it. The same can also be said for photography, but people tend not to believe so.

    Now if Alan Bean was producing a lunar version of a scientific botanical illustration, where color accuracy and attention to detail is paramount, then he might have a leg to stand upon. But he isn’t and doesn’t… he paints just like the rest of us and takes artistic license with his subjects.

    As much as I revere the astronauts in the US space program, I recognize that a bunch of them have a healthy ego that struggles to be held in check — including Alan Bean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your comments! Yes, I found his statements a bit “pompous” because he’s not sharing his unique reality, but, as you’ve pointed out, taking the same artistic license we all use in our drawings and paintings. It was an interesting article to read, and it was certainly thought-provoking, but in the end, I’m in complete agreement with your assessment of Bean and his art. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve certainly noticed times in my life when a certain thing has come up independently several times in a short while. For most of my life I’ve leaned toward assuming a purpose or message in those clusterings, even if I don’t know what each purpose or message is. I still have to wonder, though, whether the opposite might be the truth, that a coincidence is really nothing other than a coincidence, as devoid of meaning as rolling a pair of dice and having the same total come up several times in a row, which the mathematics of probability proves is bound to happen every now and then.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe so. Maybe coincidences are meaningless. To me, it doesn’t matter. I believe life is more exciting and more rewarding when we find meaning — even if it’s purely imaginary. What does a source matter if we’re led to learn more, do more, or be more? It’s a bit like the old story of a man who won the lottery. When asked how he got lucky, he says he had a dream. In this dream he kept hearing “7 x 7 is 56” over and over, so he chose “56” as a number, and that was the winning number. When pointed out to him that 7 x 7 is NOT 56, he merely shrugged. It worked for him, so who was he to question it? In the same way, I delight in following “coincidences” and seeing where they take me. I’ve discovered a lot of fascinating things in that way. But, again, it’s probably all meaningless at it’s most basic level. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying it. 🙂


      1. That’s a great anecdote about the lottery winner, and excellent in making your point that the important thing is to make good use of things even if the things themselves are random or mistaken. (By the way, in my original comment I almost mentioned the fact that every now and then a person wins a lottery for the second time.)

        Liked by 1 person

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