Co-production or critique?

Dan Weiskopf/ I find it useful to think about art-science interactions in terms of two broad models: co-production and critique. Each of these is pitched at a separate audience, and embodies a different idea about what the two practices have to offer each other.

On a co-production model, artists and scientists jointly aim to create something of potential value to both enterprises. In its strongest form this might mean producing a kind of knowledge (or new data or phenomena) that can be incorporated into science itself. Sciart here is continuous with scientific practice. Alternatively, it might mean generating knowledge that is about science and relevant to its practice without being directly part of it. Sometimes this is cast not in terms of knowledge but rather as producing a form of “insight” or “understanding”, each of which could be theorized much further. Finally, the hope of collaboration sometimes seems to be that art and science can be engines of discovery for each other. When the “creativity” of each field is emphasized, this notion of reciprocal generativity seems to be in the background. The co-production model tends to view sciart as an inward-looking and mutually beneficial exchange where the main audience is the participants themselves.

Less discussed so far is the critique model, on which sciart takes a more oppositional posture towards the methods, social standing, and products of science. This can take the form of institutional critique or ethical and political criticism, especially of applied technoscience. It can also include challenges to scientific epistemology or rationality more broadly. Art here operates in its perhaps overly familiar “problematizing” role, while science functions principally as the subject matter of art, something to be scrutinized from the outside rather than made into a fuller participant. The benefits of this model for science are not well articulated, particularly when it shades over into more radical forms of debunking or unmasking. Critique of this sort tends to be polemical and outward-looking, aimed at intervening in public debates over the cultural authority of science and raising consciousness about the ways it is transforming the world.

Note that it would be possible to place a more positive valence on the category of critique as well. Sciart that aims to elevate the values and practices of science and to promote them to a wider audience would fall under this heading. This seems to be a form of activism akin to what Eve was calling for; it’s also, I think, implicit in the role art plays in STEAM programs. We might think of this as a “Promethean” model.

Obviously these two forms are ideal types, always intermingled and impure in practice. But they are, to use Taney’s apt term, sharply distinct ways of positioning the authority of art vis-à-vis science.

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