Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

An interesting comment and criticism on science-art

I came across an interesting criticism which I feel should be taken seriously by all the people working in the area of science-art. Therefore I am posting it here:

This criticism is made BY Mr. Stephen Nowlin
V.P., Director, Williamson Gallery at Art Center College of Design, Greater Los Angeles Area , USA

With special permission from Mr. Stephen Nowlin, I am using this for my articles and book
( I have posted this criticism on Art Lab as I agree with him to some extent. But I have a reply to this criticism which will be added later as and when I get time)

Stephen Nowlin : Here is what I've been thinking about lately. In many of my projects bringing together art and science I have received, particularly from the media, the "novelty" reaction. The headlines read "Art Meets Science," "Art Collides with Science," etc, as if the effort is noteworthy in the same way that combining ballet dancers and auto repair might be -- interesting by virtue of its unusual pairing. It's as if the story value is only in the novelty of bringing together two domains traditionally thought to exist at distance points on a spectrum. I would in fact say this is the predominant reaction to art/science, and that some artists and curators are content themselves not to delve any deeper. I would propose that to be taken seriously as an intellectual and artistic endeavor that can uncover profound ideas for our time and not be patronized as novelty, art/science needs to somehow talk more about the meanings it forges and spend less time celebrating in its own union.

Working at an educational institution, I have many times listened to discussions slip seamlessly back and forth between formal and conceptual critiques of a student's artwork. It is impossible to speak of meaning in art without bilaterally addressing both, as they are prerequisite and requisite, one to the other.

It seems, though, that the reaction to art/science is often generated by the novelty of their pairing, or unilaterally by their visual formalism, and doesn't go much deeper. To cite an example -- there is much in the practice of science that is visual byproduct, and that can be interesting to look at, and which ends up in some cases being declared as art for the sole reason that it looks like art. Or rather, it looks like what we think art is supposed to look like -- or, it mimics art we've seen in galleries or history books. It's pretty, or colorful, or optically dynamic, or expressionistic, or familiar -- I'm reminded of a lab experiment tracing the paths of fruit flies in an enclosed space, in which different colors were assigned to different flies and the end result looked strikingly like a Jackson Pollock painting. Enough so as to earn the piece a first-place award in an "Art of Science" competition at one of the world's foremost educational science centers. This is science ephemera that relates to art in only the most superficial sense -- and it is my experience that this perception of the art/science relationship most often comes from the science world -- a community that often regards art practice as a kind of therapeutic escape from the much more serious and much less hedonistic business of their science profession (although I have met and worked with a good number of scientists like Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa to whom this stereotype does not apply).

So I see as a pitfall the tendency of some art/science followers and practitioners to speak of their activities using terms that mostly just describe the pairing of these two domains and not the unique content they can forge. The latter is more difficult and elusive to articulate, certainly, but without it, the "movement" (if there is one, and I'd like to think there is) doesn't really add up to anything deeper than being a novel eccentricity by which some people are transfixed, or to which some people are intutively drawn in the same essentially "dumb" way that certain terrestrials were drawn to the alien's landing site in the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

In the interest of brevity (oops, sorry, too late for that), I will say in closing that one area of forged content I wish personally to explore is how the influence of secular science on art over the course of Modernism's development in the 19th and 20th centuries and beyond, has echoed (at least in Western societies} an erosion of supernatural, or theistic, beliefs. The more direct pairing of art and science in this century seems, to me, to be an inevitable outcome of earlier modernist trajectories, one that implies an objectively reasoned view of the cosmos and our place in it, i.e., a scientific and atheistic view, need not be devoid of spiritual fulfillment if art is present to to reveal the poetry and humanistic soul of such a commitment and love of inquiry. This sort of content is profound and far-reaching for a world in which the tentacles of those supernatural belief systems we inherited from our ancestors still extend into many contemporary human activities and institutions. Certainly and by far not the only content uniquely shaped or engaged by art/science, but for me it is a central and evolving one .

My reply: Will be added later.

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Comment by Jonathan Zilberg on February 5, 2013 at 7:36pm

Many thanks for sharing this profoundly useful discussion.

The last paragraph brings to my  mind the work of the cellular biologist and artist Sandra Barrett particularly her book Cells and the Sacred and her on-line video discussions of a productive conjunction of art and science through a biology of enlightenment.

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