Getting Over Art and Science

Nice Topic, Getting Over Art and Science

Posted in: “Art Meets Science: Get Over It”
In the Linkedin  Scientist Artists Collaborations Group
T.Collins, 2012 August

When given a chance I often ask people how they would define Leonardo da Vinci, as an artist or scientist? Of course academia has come a long way since the 16th C. We have developed robust disciplines and now embrace inter and intra disciplinary approaches to increasingly complex and ‘sticky’ problems. We increasingly offer dual degrees and some cases art/science degrees to foster new strengths and potential leadership. Over centuries we have refined knowledge through the development of separate disciplines. Results include incredible human advances but also a troubling separation between knowledge, power and impact. Some would argue that the current age of the anthropocene is one result. This issue, along with climate change are amongst the dominant emergent issues of our day… with a potential relationship to art and science.  (I’ll suggest a specific cultural aspect in my conclusion.)

In the late 20th C aesthetic philosophy and cultural theory moved art towards the social and environmental complicating ideas of aesthetic beauty, the sublime, (and the artists relationship to the spiritual). At the same time science has embraced ideas about ecosystems, complex systems and social science in the past century.  And in every case the work is refined and extended by new computer tools. It is important to move across these boundaries of art and science with modesty and attention to where we make our primary contribution and our secondary contribution. I am an artist and make no claim to ‘doing’ science. I can interrogate and contribute to the cultural issues, the values that emerge when science and its methods engages society and environment. I can use scientific tools and follow scientific method. But my voice is not authoritative in science; I work in the realm of art and culture primarily by shaping aesthetic perception.

The question we have been asked is ‘does art and science matter?’ The arts bring an open ended (yet methodical) critical approach to questions of culture and value while science brings a structured approach that seeks to isolate questions for definitive analysis. (Both disciplines benefit from slightly different forms of peer review and validation.) There is productive tension embedded in the difference between the disciplines that is worth attending to.  There is new knowledge and resources in the interstitial spaces between disciplines. However the art/science cross is problematic in that there are issues of authority (lack of PhD’s) and resources (lack of research funding) in the arts. This skews potential relationships in significant ways and sets up art to serve, interpret or communicate scientific outcomes rather than to shape the methods and analysis of an integrated approach to art and science.

The supernatural was leveraged into the mix as an example of something art does that science doesn’t do. While the enlightenment has moved us beyond kings, the gods still lurks amongst us and shape problematic ideologies and actions world wide. This is an area with great polemic value. I would ague that an alternative path into this realm would be through ideas of historical vitalism, Berkson’s ideas about ‘Elan Vital’ and on a slightly different tack Marturana’ and Varela’s ‘Santiago Theory of Cognition’. An organizing principle would be the differentiation between the soul as a personal possession (shared with god) versus the vital forces and decisions that shape life. Of course this latter point brings the spiritual (along with the moral and ethical) back to nest amongst all living things on earth. If we are going to survive the 21st C we need to begin to rethink the limitations of anthropocentric ethics and politics. This is another cultural  polemic that I would argue is essential to the art/science discourse.

I am of course presuming that the aesthetic integrates the ethical and the political.