|Barrett Klein was five years old when he realized that he wanted to combine art and insects as his life's work. "The greatest inspirational moment in my life came as an abstract flurry when I was five years old: I saw a painted lady butterfly lying dead on the driveway. I had never been struck greatly by insects in particular, but when I found this and I looked at the form, I felt a great, inexplicable potential in my hands. And then I realized that I could keep, examine, and draw it, and suddenly everything seemed possible."
Barrett comes from an artistic family. "My parents are artists and own an art gallery. All of us, including my twin brother Arno and my sister Korinthia, would draw and paint all the time." "But there was more: From that point on, I was drawn not only to the aesthetics of the creature but also to the idea that I could better understand its place in the world. If you're inspired by the beauty of something, then I think you're more inclined to search for reasons why it exists and reasons to better understand it," he said.
By the time Barrett got to college, he was committed to both art and entomology. "I really wanted to do everything: to study fine arts, sculpture, filmmaking, biology, and even some physics if I could squeeze it in." He majored in entomology but took as many art courses as he could. In addition to his work as a display maker at the American Museum of Natural History, Barrett is a working entomologist and filmmaker.
"When I saw that butterfly in the driveway, I knew that my life would always involve insects and art. Everything I do ends up being insect-related: All my films are on insect subjects." He told us about a film he made in Panama that explored the structure and behavior of plants and plant mimics. "I filmed leaf-cutter ants carting away pieces of leaves and then spliced those images with ones of army ants carting away pieces of katydids, which are mimics of leaves. It was a lot of fun," he said with a laugh.
Barrett says he chose to combine science and art because "I think that's the most effective way of inspiring people to appreciate everything around us. If you can appreciate the form of a blade of grass not only for the beautiful streak of green and the texture but also for its ability to produce oxygen or its function as food to countless organisms, from spittlebugs to leaf hoppers, and if you can communicate that to others, then you can motivate others to value everything on the planet," Barrett said.
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