Response to Werner’s Thought Experiments — Will Science Replace Religion?

Stephen Nowlin/ Regarding Werner’s call for thought experiments on the future of the science-art enterprise, and my query on how science might someday replace religion. Werner asks “Do you have a sense of how this might work in practice?”

Good, modest little question, Werner — kinda like asking for simple operating instructions on how to transform all of human history! But an excellent experimental thought challenge. So everyone please forgive me at the outset for the hubris of even imagining how such a massive change might actually happen . . .

A first humble step might be to stop casting the argument in terms of religion vs. science, and engage it as supernatural-world vs. natural-world. This makes it an academic pursuit rather than one pointedly antagonistic to belief. Then get over the NOMA hurdle, discard it and recognize that ontologically religion and science essentially account for the same deep-seated human … Continue reading

Response to Leonard Re: ‘Giving Legitimacy to Nonsense’

Stephen Nowlin/ In his critique of “artworks which include random scientific imagery in order to ‘science up’ the artwork” Leonard Shapiro thoughtfully raises a fundamental issue for Sci-Art. The challenge is how to manage an artwork that appropriates scientific imagery for the purpose of evoking emotional reactions and transcendent associations which were not inherent in the imagery’s specific scientific origin, thus proffering for that imagery its legitimate resonance with broader ideas and sensations — and at the same time remaining true to the integrity of the science. When poeticizing or in effect acknowledging the genuinely ‘spiritualizing’ dimensions of science, it is nonetheless easy to slip into complicity (or give the appearance of doing so) with New-Age mysticism, religious pseudo-science, or paranormal and supernatural memes that clearly misinterpret and pervert rather than promote science consciousness. It is in the discourse over how Sci-Art challenges such historically and culturally institutionalized perversions of … Continue reading

The Problem of the Wall Label . . .

Stephen Nowlin/ There are, as this symposium shows, many approaches crowded under the Sci-Art umbrella. For the one having to do with exhibiting works of science-based art, the quaint convention of the gallery wall label conceals much deeper issues than its quietly pragmatic utility would suggest. First of all, gallery labels are annoying — tiny little extra rectangles, visual objects in themselves, that dot the wall and exude residue of having hawked one’s craftwork at a peg-board street fair. Worse, though, they trumpet the century outmoded single-channel notion that each work of art is “on display itself” rather than part of a cohesive aesthetic and intellectual whole where only an installation free of all unnecessary visual flak will suffice. Wall labels in a gallery are like leaving a metronome going during the symphony. But their truly criminal act is when they historicize and decode the work of art, and by … Continue reading

Response to Werner: Science Museum vs. Art Gallery, and other stuff . . .

Stephen Nowlin/ Regarding some cited works of Sci-Art, Werner Sun comments that “. . . if I had encountered any one on its own, I would probably not have identified it as sci-art per se . . .” ( http://bit.ly/wernercomment )

Werner, thanks for your thoughtful comment, which raises really intriguing issues. First, on a broader subject being discussed, my two-cents is that I don’t really think “Sci-Art” rises to the definition of a brand — it’s rather more like a way-finding sign. It suffices, only. Personally, it kind-of covers what I do and maybe that’s as much as we can expect of a big umbrella word. In any event, I think that what we do is not done in order to justify or fit into what it ends up getting labeled. The best we can do is agitate and incite for the moment in which our efforts might make … Continue reading

Response to Jeanne Brasile on Sci-Art as a Trend . . .

Stephen Nowlin/ I agree with Jeanne that Sci-Art will continue to be a way of relating to the world even as it morphs into the future, and I think it’s an important topic to try and unpack. For the moment, Sci-Art criticized as a kind of fad or fashion, temporary obsession, etc, is something to which it is vulnerable, and one which may be helped by discussions such as these that provide some historical perspective.

One lens through which to view that history begins in the mid-nineteenth century and the gradual metamorphosis of representational painting into abstraction and non-objectivity by the early decades of the twentieth century. It is not accurate to declare the period to have begun a permanent decline in representation and its symbolisms, since to this day representational art persists in abundance. But I think it is accurate to say that the introduction of abstraction created not … Continue reading

More on How Art and Science Know . . .

Stephen Nowlin/

Science, of course, investigates and knows about many things but let’s just take one category, astronomy. It’s likely that most of the planet’s current human population knows through education or at least general cultural awareness that the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon goes around the Earth. And my guess is that (just speculation here, and despite sporadic droplets of broader knowledge many now encounter through contemporary sources like Discovery or Science channels, Facebook posts, CNN headlines, or fading Sagan-Cosmos memories), . . . that this simple Copernican Sun/Moon/Earth relationship is about the extent to which a majority of modern humans care or incorporate knowledge of astronomy or astrophysics into their personal existential identities. It seems remarkable to me that an earlier Earth and mythology-centered ontological framework inherited from a multi-millennial past has been so minimally disturbed by the thorough and revolutionary debunking it has experienced during … Continue reading

Who’s the Audience?

Stephen Nowlin/ Thank you to the CUE Foundation and Taney Roniger for initiating this timely and important dialogue.

An initial thought: I think the title of the conference itself smartly points to the need for a deeper excavation of what Sci-Art is and what it means. “Strange Attractors” exposes the tendency, particularly in the popular media, to approach a convergence of science and art as a kind-of inspirational novelty — that is, as an implausible tale of romance, an affair noteworthy primarily because it seems to successfully pair what are stereotypically perceived to be polar opposite ends of a spectrum. As a result, the exposure of Sci-Art to the public through popular media remains largely superficial, more descriptive of its charm and novelty than analytical of its deeper meanings. While such may not be the case with academic journals and scholarly writing on the subject, it is the ability of … Continue reading