On the Question of Audience

Taney Roniger/ I think it’s significant that many of the posts so far have taken on the issue of sci-art’s audience. This is so very important, and it’s one of the reasons I’m interested in the genre to begin with. Above all, I see the growing sci-art movement as an earnest and impassioned attempt on the part of art to achieve greater cultural authority in these urgent times.  And I agree with Stephen that if it’s to be taken seriously, sci-art needs to stop presenting itself as a mere novelty. The question that comes to my mind is: If our aim is to reach beyond the ivory towers of academia and the narrow confines of the art world proper, how can we expect a nuanced and meaningful reception when the vast majority of the public is ignorant of art? Daniel, you say:  “If art can potentially expand its audience through some sort of interaction with the juggernaut of science, it is a bet worth taking.” But as it happens, art and science are two of the most inscrutable disciplines, not just to each other but to the culture at large! Put them together and you get inscrutability squared. It’s a bit of a funny partnership, if you think of it that way.

4 Replies to “On the Question of Audience”

  1. One commonality between art and science is that the public is ignorant of both, much to our detriment. As someone who works in the sciences, this troubles me greatly. In fact, I call these times the anti-Renaissance, where science is pushed aside in favor of ideology and self-serving economic interests. The true power of science is that it allows for evidence-based decision making, which is inarguably the best path forward in any venture.

    But what I see is a give-the-fox-the-key-to-the-henhouse approach to political appointments (say what?), an unregulated supplement market (possibly leading to a rejection of viable alternatives), a belief in the superiority of organic food (what food isn’t organic?), an anti-GMO sentiment (we’ve been modifying the genetics of food since the dawn of civilization), non-renewable and climate-change-inducing energy sources (it’s November 6 and we have yet to have a freeze in upstate NY), and alternative medicine (it’s not even medicine).

    Humankind is not so far removed from the savanna, where daily decisions had immediate and possibly deadly consequences. Can art help translate that sense of urgency onto the issues of our day?

  2. A commonality between art and science is that the public is ignorant of both, much to our detriment. As someone who works in the sciences, this troubles me greatly. In fact, I call these times the anti-Renaissance, where science is pushed aside in favor of ideology and self-serving economic interests. The true power of science is that it allows for evidence-based decision making, which is inarguably the best path forward in any venture.

    But what I see is a give-the-fox-the-key-to-the-henhouse approach to political appointments (say what?), an unregulated nutritional supplement market (possibly leading to a rejection of viable alternatives), a belief in the superiority of organic food (what food isn’t organic?), an anti-GMO sentiment (we’ve been modifying the genetics of food since the dawn of civilization), non-renewable and climate-change-inducing energy sources (it’s November 6 and we have yet to have a freeze in upstate NY), and alternative medicine (it’s not even medicine).

    Humankind is not so far removed from the savanna, where daily decisions had immediate and possibly deadly consequences. Can art help translate that sense of urgency onto the issues of our day?

  3. Taney, I agree with the inscrutability of both art and science and the two together often amount to inscrutability squared. But I wonder if audiences at large, even in their bewilderment are more compelled to look at this equation as a minus x minus = a plus? At least this would be the case for a successful work. In that sense, I see Margaret Wertheim’s coral project as having that capability. Her project is an odd case where science meets art at a fair mid point, which is not an easy thing to accomplish, and It does it in the most beautiful way by presenting art with a muse it is all too familiar and enamored of: geometry, in this case hyperbolic geometry.

  4. I used to like to make a thought experiment of trying to imagine the edge of any material object as magnification is slowly and steadily increased. Physics has shown that any solid object is mostly empty space, so at some point in magnification, the boundary between the thing and no-thing would become difficult to determine. Since thinking about the line between art and science can feel like wading into quicksand with no possible outcome, I like to think in terms of perspective. One thing we can be sure of is that our tenures on this planet are exceedingly brief. The universe exists more without humanity than with us. The vast majority of species that have existed on this planet have gone extinct. Until the 1920’s the universe was only as big as the Milky Way Galaxy until Edwin Hubble made his breakthrough discovery. Now with the dark matter/dark energy problem, the fact that all the matter humanity has ever studied only constitutes 4% of the known matter in the universe, we actually know less proportionally than ever before. If we look at our history we see that the models we have created to explain the universe and our place in it have very frequently been wrong, but a zeitgeist of arrogance kept us from making the realization. Stephen Hawking talks about this Model Dependent Realism in his book The Grand Design saying it serves us well to assume that whatever models we construct are likely to be wrong and will need to be amended or scrapped altogether at some point. Paradigm shifts, if they do indeed occur, come from the places we least expect. This does not mean that a connection between art and science will usher in a paradigm shift, only that a more collectively open mind might help us to advance a bit quicker in identifying where our models are wrong.

    It is stuck in my mind how just a week ago I was in downtown Manhattan trying to excite students on the importance of art, but the students were distracted by the steady loud thrum of helicopters and the wail of sirens. Just a few blocks away, eight people lay dead from an unimaginable act of a sick mind. Some part of our model is definitely flawed. There is a sense of urgency.

    As someone who has devoted my life to art, I know art has the power to serve individuals and society in a way that is far from being utilized. It would seem that to hedge our bets would be smart in hopes that something may come from an apparently barren realm. Compared with other current avenues, the pursuit of art and science seems a harmless bet. The question remains: if some form of art and science moves forward, will it be more decorative data or the catalyst of human transformation? In my opinion, education is absolute priority.

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