The constant interplay between art and science appeals to many students in the NCBG botanical art programs. Renderings of plants are grouped into three main genres: botanical illustration, botanical art, and floral art. The first two can be said to exist along a continuum rather than in separate camps, because both botanical illustrators and botanical artists are challenged with trying to integrate the utilitarian, scientific function of an image (identification, education, information) with aesthetic and visual considerations.
For the Botanical Art Fundamentals Program and the Garden's Certificate in Botanical Art & Illustration program, botanical art and illustration have been teased apart to help clarify the differences between the two. Most works created by botanical artists and illustrators include some aspects of each.
In brief, scientific botanical illustrations are usually created to accompany descriptive texts such as journal articles, textbooks, field guides, and popular magazines, where the image functions primarily to provide information and educate the viewer. Accuracy of form, color, and size is imperative, because both professionals and novices need to be able to identify the plant or plant parts from the illustration. The plant is traditionally drawn to scale so that all the parts correctly relate to one another in size.
In botanical art, more emphasis may be placed on aesthetic considerations, and the artist has more freedom to make personal visual choices, to draw the viewer in and evoke an emotional response. Although the plant parts in the image may be arranged more pleasingly for compositional reasons, the draftsmanship and final artistic representation must remain true to the character and growth habit of the plant. In botanical art the plant traditionally is still drawn to scale, and a botanical professional examining the image should be able to identify the species and find no anatomical inaccuracies.