For several years, we have been experiencing a new wave of interest in the connection between art and science. Two similar waves occurred in the previous century. The first took place in the 1920s and 1930s, marking the beginning of modern art, industrial design, modern music and modern architecture. The second of these waves was in the 1950s and 1960s, marking the birth of electronic music, video art, interactive art and generative art.
Both of these periods shared a sense of optimism about potential future developments, as well as a sense of responsibility on the part of artists, who were expected to fulfil specific missions to help ensure the realisation of this positive potential. This mission was perceived as consisting of absorbing new technological and scientific notions into the realms of human experience and imagination. Civilisation often lags behind the advances in technological control of the world. According to the Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, this lag is one of the root causes of exploitation, war and other excesses.
Within the current wave of interest in the ArtScience connection, several views on the interactions between art and science can be distinguished. One form of collaboration that has become almost common regards scientific concepts as a type of ‘content’, which artists translate into images, sounds or other experiences. Although this approach has the potential to reduce artists to some type of scientific communicators, it usually triggers radically new kinds of artistic development.
This approach can also generate works that help scientists acquire new, intuitive understandings of what they are doing, as well as works that comment on the consequences of scientific developments. Another form of collaboration is one in which scientists and technologists assist in the realisation of artistic ideas. Although this process can reduce scientists or engineers to some type of art facilitators, it usually ensures that the actual artistic ideas are informed by a new awareness of possibilities. It also allows artists to help trigger new directions of research by posing uncommon problems.
A more complex and much more interesting zone between art and science has been described in two recent books. In ArtScience (2008), David Edwards cites many examples from the worlds of science, art, civil society and industry that demonstrate the ways in which the transposition of ideas or strategies from one field to another often results in radical innovation. For Edwards, ArtScience is an intermediate area of creativity, in which neither art nor science is clearly defined. According to this reasoning, the stimulation of this zone is a key strategy for fostering innovation. In Information Arts (2002), the artist and theorist Stephen Wilson provides an encyclopaedic overview of many new forms of art that are rooted in current science and technology. Wilson no longer considers the traditional artistic disciplines relevant to the discussion of these art forms, proceeding to group them under the headings of the main scientific disciplines. Wilson further argues that these new forms of art will not necessarily find any place within the traditional platforms for art, and that they will not necessarily share traditional artistic concerns.
The core idea that makes such collaborations and intermediate zones interesting is that art and science can both be considered as types of exploration, and that they are regarded as complementary in many ways. Whereas science maintains an aura of objectivity and detachment, art tends to favour subjectivity and critical engagement. Whereas peer review is the norm in science, artists are expected to be iconoclastic and original. Whereas science is expressed in formulas and text, art often exists in non-verbal experiences. Ultimately, however, art and science share the aim of enlarging the scope of our ideas about the world. By inventing new media and new artistic languages, art can create new worlds of experience. By widening our imagination, it can also create new kinds of thinking, as we are unable to think about things that we cannot imagine. As written in 1956 by Gyorgy Kepes, the founder of the Centre for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, ‘The images and symbols which can truly domesticate the newly revealed aspects of nature will be developed only if we use all our faculties to the full - assimilating with the scientist’s brain, the poet’s heart and the painter’s eyes. It is an integrated vision that we need; but our awareness and understanding of the world and its realities are divided into the rational - the knowledge frozen in words and quantities – and the emotional – the knowledge vested in sensory image and feeling’.
Last updated: 2017-01-29