by Kat Clay
In 1980, Robert Hughes wrote a book about the relationship between modern art and the development of human society, especially through technology. It was called The Shock of the New. In the case of Georges Braque's comment 'Art upsets; Science reassures', it is not necessarily the words within the book that are as important as the title. What is new shocks and upsets the way people accept knowledge as truth. We return to the old, accepted beliefs to be reassured. Art is often new, and always moving. It does not need empirical proofs to continue its motions, so it is more often upsetting. Science, dependent on empirical proofs, induction and deduction, has the capacity for great shock and upset, but takes longer to produce new concepts and theories with proof.
Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were the dual founders of cubism, one of the most important artistic revolutions of our time. Braque considered himself first and foremost an artist, seeking to portray the multiplicity of reality in a visual sense. This is why, in his comment 'Art upsets; Science reassures' he may not necessarily have been considering the implications on the 'arts', but rather 'art' itself, separate from such actions as music, literature and performance. However, this essay has primarily been written to discuss the effect of all arts literature, music, performance and art and science on knowledge systems, rather than the limitations of art in general.
What makes people upset, especially in attaining knowledge? It is good enough to say that physical pain makes people upset; the strongest of soldiers wince when their arm is cut off. The pain that is closest to epistemology is mental pain, the limitations of our capacity to accept new knowledge. It is mentally demanding to change from a world view that the world is flat, to a world view with a spherical world. Carl Sagan said, 'Few of us wonder why nature is the way it is because it so vividly exposes the limitations of human understanding' (1988, x). 'To accept a completely contradictory statement as truth is a humiliating process; it requires the acknowledgement that we were wrong'. This is the shock of the new, where new concepts upset because of their ability to expose our limitations.
With the new and old come preconceived archetypes. The old sustains an archetype, and the new attempts to deconstruct it and create a new one. Art and Science both do this, but create in different ways, thus limiting the speed knowledge is accepted to ourparadigms and the amount of upset which is created in turn. Picasso and Braque sought to demonstrate multiplicity in our perspectives of reality. Life is not made up of singular theories and thoughts, but a cumulation of experience, imagination, observation, a priori and revealed knowledge at the same time. Imagine if we were a computer, such as the early binary programmers, that could only input one thing at a time. We would act as if in freeze frame animation, concentrating on survival first, let alone creativity! Science only permits direct focus on one form of knowledge attainment, empirical, but artists, seeking to portray all aspects in a physical recreation, allow for multiplicity
Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept of scientific revolutions, or paradigm changes, where a complete shift in direction or perspective takes place. He believes 'They [Scientific revolutions] are the tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity of normal science' (1970, 6). Scientific revolutions, similar to artistic revolutions, destroy the archetypes of tradition. However, this process goes in cycles, where the once groundbreaking becomes the tradition to next be destroyed. Science would only reassure until the next revolution, where the theories that reassured us would be dispelled, or disproved.
Returning to these old views and paradigms within science is a self-defeating act. If we went back to middle-age cosmology, whilst in the midst of modern-day astronomy, we would be acknowledging something that has been treated with scepticism by modern science, let alone disproved by the falsifications of scientists. We have been presented with a much broader amount of knowledge with each revolution, and the newest knowledge becomes the reassuring, rather than the old, because the old has been proved false or unnecessary, and generally, people do not wish to believe 'lies', or something that is out of fashion.
This is not to say that science is always reassuring. One good example of upset in science is Galileo's insistence on the truth of the Copernican model of the solar system. He argued that man could hope to understand how the world works 'by observing the real world' (Hawking, S. 1988, 189). What we take for granted as the first principles of astronomy was of great upset within the Catholic church in 1616, because they had broken down the old archetypes of divine authority. However, we turn to these principles for reassurance in the year 2001, because as peopleof a primarily mechanistic paradigm, 'seeing is believing'.
We are left with a degree of conflict; science is upsetting because it is new, and dispels old archetypes, but science is also reassuring because it is new, as people are not reassured by the disproved, 'old' information. It is necessary to put an order to events. The deconstruction of archetypes comes even in the conceptual stages of science, where scientists put aside the archetypes in their minds to conceive a theory. When first published there oft be sceptics of new theories. As these stand the tests of time and scepticism, even though they are new, they gradually dissolve into reassurance. It depends on the relative time frame this is placed into, whether science is reassuring or not. Relativity was shocking because it was new to knowledge paradigms, but it was reassuring because it was the latest 'truth' in a history of paradigms. It is man's desire for ordered creation that confronts and upsets the disorder of the rest of the universe.
In the arts, we seek inspiration amongst the classics, studying the great canons of literature. Virginia Woolf described novels as 'originators and inheritors' (1923, 79), which equally could be said of the arts. The arts always have original touches of creativity, singular to each artist, but they also appropriate techniques, devices and even symbols as inheritors. Artists will always have different audiences that appreciate them, but different paradigms are appreciated and criticised at the same time. John Grisham's realist techniques in the nineties are no less appreciated than James Joyce's avant-garde style almost eighty years ago, just by different audiences. The arts allow for multiplicity, with different revolutions happening at the same time, all being acceptable to knowledge systems, but not necessarily all reassuring.
Books, performances, music compilations and galleries all require audiences, which are determined by personal tastes. Because the arts run simultaneously on different levels, upset arises between groups of tastes, such as classical and pop musicians. To the classical musician, Mozart and Bach is good and right, but to the pop star, classical is wrong because it is 'bad'. This causes upset within the arts because of the conflict of symbols, where both may be right at the same time. However, this must not be confused with science's pursuit of real and false, using empiricism, as it is an objective pursuit, rather than art's subjectivity of
good and bad aesthetics.
The postmodernist era saw art attempting to break down these barriers of knowledge attainment by deconstructing the archetypes of the classical era. Magritte's 'The Treason of Images' (Plate 1) questions the role that objects have in triggering memories, and how often these assume truth, before questioning the roots of how we know. In art, the way meaning is conveyed is through symbols. What if those symbols are destroyed? This is one issue with the lack of empirical proof in art. The pipe is pipe in realism, not a pipe in postmodernism, or a series of different perspectives in cubism. It is wonderful to marvel at human imagination, but in a pragmatic sense, we can never truly draw new conclusions and archetypes about objects in reality from art because of the many conflicting perspectives. Without empirical proofs, art lacks definition. Thus science becomes a necessity to art, as we need the reassurances of observant scientists to define objects, create archetypes and say, 'This is a pipe'.
Because art is moving, and does not remain static, it reassures us through periods of scientific stagnation that we are moving somewhere, even if it does upset our knowledge systems. Art is a guideline to our travels in reality, that while progressing through what may be seen as never-ending monotony, another revolution is coming, the one where we reach the top of the tower, to look out on what we have achieved. It crosses all boundaries of society and changes with every passing day. This is the reassurance that comes with change, but can never be given by science, as it does not allow for multiple views of the same event but seeks problems to solve.
Shock comes from what is new, but reassurance eventually dawns when new becomes old. Art can break down archetypes quickly on multiple levels, where science continues having revolutions of paradigm that dispel archetypes slowly, requiring empirical evidence to proceed. However, they are both necessary to each other, and should not attempt to dispel each other through their own near sightedness.
Karl Popper concludes, 'Science is capable of making real discoveriesbut I do not fall into the mistake of denying reality to all that is colourful, varied, individual, indeterminate and indescribable in our world' (1981, 102). Science and Art both have the ability to reassure and upset, but they must do each as companions in epistemology.
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