To abstract the real world – to “move away from the concrete world and move towards ideas and concepts” (Khan Academy lecture of “Abstract”) – is a skill shared by both artists and scientist. It is neatly illustrated in the process of abstracting trees for modelling satellite observations.
In the science of remote sensing of forests we often have to build some kind of physical model for simulating the observations. Since we don’t want to replicate real trees in their entirety, which would be unnecessarily complex, we simplify the forest so that we capture the essence of what makes a tree, a tree (within the realms of any particular observation technique). It often results in abstract, symbolic representations of trees and forests, and in this way shares many of the same goals as visual artists: to capture the essence of their subject rather than to simply replicate its appearance.
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