The Cosmic Dance en Plein Air

Spring in the Hills II by John Hulsey, 5 x 7, oil painting.
Spring in the Hills II by John Hulsey, 5 x 7, oil painting.

Whenever we get to feeling that there is nothing really new to be discovered in art or the world, we have to keep in mind that the “undiscovered country” often lies in our own backyards.

Recently, scientists at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany discovered that cattle and other large animals tend to organize themselves toward the magnetic poles. They made this discovery by spending six months studying hundreds of Google Earth satellite images of cattle and deer on six continents—observing more than 8,000 cows and 3,000 deer.

They noted that the cattle did not orient toward true north, which they could have done using the position of the sun, and the alignment effect disappeared near high-voltage power lines, which would have overpowered the relatively weak influence of the earth’s magnetic field. No one knows exactly why cattle have this tendency, but it may have evolved to help them navigate during migrations, similar to the way birds and whales can navigate magnetically.

Ann and I often wander the fields near our studios when plein air painting, often taking the cows and horses around us as our subject. They seem to pose so picturesquely for us whenever we set our sights on them. While it never occurred to me to notice their north-south alignment, I have often marveled at how perfectly they seem to be distributed across the grassland. I never feel as though I need to redesign my outdoor painting layout of the herd to make a better picture.

Madame by Ann Trusty, 5 x 7, oil painting. The First Hot Day by John Hulsey, 5 x 7, pastel painting.
Madame by Ann Trusty,
5 x 7, oil painting.
The First Hot Day by John Hulsey,
5 x 7, pastel painting.

This has happened so often that I really have wondered if cows are tuned in to some kind of cosmic fractal equation that describes the optimum spacing for cattle in a pasture! Or perhaps they obey as-yet undiscovered rules of cosmic choreography. What if, like a Gary Larsen cartoon, the cows are actually performing a secret ballet upon the landscape to music only they can hear—a kind of bovine performance art? It can seem like a crazy and funny idea, but then it took us 10,000 years to realize these same animals were pointing to the magnetic poles! There’s just a lot we don’t know.

No one knows why humans have felt compelled to create works of art since the dawn of time, either. But we just do. Perhaps we too, as artists, are also performing in the cosmic dance to a “muse-ic” only we can hear. So far, the creative impulse has proven to be scientifically unquantifiable. Nevertheless, I always point south when I paint in my studio—does that mean anything?

One thing is for sure—the next time I’m out with the cows, I’m going to pay more attention. They may know something! For more great articles, please visit us on The Artist’s Road.

–John & Ann

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About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

3 thoughts on “The Cosmic Dance en Plein Air

  1. Ok, the science bit just sounds too crazy. You’re spot on about them facing in a certain direction when the eat.
    …but surely there are a million other factors? More reasonable ones at least. What about they don’t like getting the sun in their face? Or, don’t like standing downwards on a hill slope, or prefer grazing on one side of the hill more because the sun rises from a certain side of the hill, creating dew on one side, making the vegetation better on the one side. And the mountains in the pictures he studied where in a similar pattern. Or maybe they don’t like to face into the wind when grazing and the places the guy studies has prevailing winds from a certain direction. …just some immediate thoughts, and I’m sure there are even better theories.

  2. Considering they contribute towards the greenhouse effect, it maybe related to the direction of the southwestern wind and the emissions from their lower half of their body. (No one wants to smell farts.) This would also allow them to smell any approaching predators.

  3. We agree. This does sound a little weird, but read the article in Scientific American magazine if you want the complete story. It is actually interesting that folks are spending lots of time looking at pictures of cows from outer space!