Response to 1.1 from Suzanne Anker

Suzanne Anker/ To begin with, what’s wrong with a “drunken conversation”? While some drunken conversations perseverate and go on endlessly in the land of repetition, others invoke unconscious or otherwise non-linear concerns which can lead to innovative thoughts, processes and materials.  When examining the nature of research and dialogue I quote Jacques Monod in that evolution operates by chance and necessity.  If we liken language to a communication system, what is the relevance in which “drunken conversations” produce mutations of thought and its consequences? For Monod, ”mutations constitute the only possible source of modifications in a genetic text……chance alone is the source of every innovation.”

Hence a “drunken conversation” may, in fact, be a method of generating knowledge.  Additionally, a brief scan of Gregory Bateson’s metalogue can also unfold hidden aspects in dialogue. In Steps to An Ecology of Mind, Bateson introduces the concept of the metalogue: “A metalogue is a conversation about some problematic subject. This conversation should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same subject. Only some …conversations achieve this double format.”

In science, consensus begins in the making (the application of the scientific method) and continues after positions are resolved.  While in art, consensus is very rarely a component in the generation and creation of the object or image. Conversely, consensus is reached and evolves after a work of art has entered the domain of art history.  However, accident and chance, or “drunken conversations,” will occasionally yield invention if the practitioner’s intuitive sense of recognition is sufficiently acute.

13 Replies to “Response to 1.1 from Suzanne Anker”

  1. Sorry I missed the event: it sounds like it was great. I can be online until Wed. AM, when I’m off to see the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where you can imagine there won’t be a speck of science, except in the Renaissance galleries.
    Regarding the notion of a “drunken conversation”: I agree with Suzanne. The expression “drunken conversation” was meant to indicate an interesting conversation: one driven by desires, one that overflows the boundaries of propriety, one that may not get anywhere right away but flows on with force and conviction until it arrives in some unexpected place.
    I think we may have space for discussion when it comes to “knowledge.” I am not convinced by most of the theorizations of “knowledge” used, or implicit, in practice-led PhD programs. I don’t think “knowledge” is something always to be desired, and when it’s applied to visual art, I’m not always sure it’s the right word.
    Just to get things started, there’s empirical knowledge, experiential knowledge, phenomenological knowledge, and tacit knowledge: which of those, or which other, should we say is appropriate as the goal of art-science collaborations?

    1. I think a way to address the aspects about knowledge, as James has pointed out, is to begin with Nelson Goodman’s “Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols”. Symbol sets reach back into pre-history as a way for ordering the world. Artists are truly engaged in world-making, aligning visual propositions to address mythology, psychology, optics, literature, history and science, among other disciplines. However, what do we mean by art-science collaborations? Do we mean artists who work with scientists on a specific project, artists who employ scientists
      as technicians, the way artists, for example, work with a master printer? Or , do we mean artists who employ scientific iconography or scientific tools and data to make art?

    2. James on “knowledge”: The philosophical divisions listed are all implicit in art and in science as structural conditions or as explicit exemptions from whatever is being formed or tested. Of course then, they are all included in each division. Last night, lack of common language was identified as the main issue that would defeat the purpose of sci/art re any kind of mutuality or understanding and therefore ‘discussion’ qua ‘discussion’ could be the optimal situation for collaboration at this point. That “knowledge” can be defined in different spheres does not obviate the fact that it is what sapients acquire as a condition of their continuance.

  2. This is a really great point, Suzanne (and one to which Jim has responded in the feed, FYI). But I would add: there is drunken, and then there is *drunken*. In the latter (which Jim apparently did not intend by the analogy), the misunderstandings are so grievous that the conversants become offended by each other’s presumptions and harbor ill will long after the dialogue. I’ll confess that I’ve grown tired of some of the persistent misconceptions on the part of scientists about what we do as artists. It seems that many of them just cannot be disabused of the notion that art is about making things look delightful. For example, one noted writer (a scientist by training and the author of several books on the art-science intersection) tells of his visit to CERN, where, he claims, the scientists there are no strangers to art. What’s the basis for this claim? The fact that all the wires in the collider are organized very neatly and color-coded in a sumptuous rainbow-like array. This kind of trivialization of what we artists do borders on the offensive. If we’re to have a productive conversation — even if it’s drunken — it seems imperative that some of these very basic misunderstandings be cleared up.

    1. Of course, we are in need of common languages. Besides some scientists, the general public is also ill prepared to evaluate contemporary art. Besides the traditional formal qualities of art,
      line, color, form, etc. art can also employ satirical hyperbole,
      institutional critique, media manipulations among others to foster a dialogue into the cultural imaginary, that is, the underlying hopes and fears in a changing society. I think “sci-art” is well positioned to do that, given the fact that science has been a reigning theology.
      More later.

    2. Taney, that’s precisely the assumption Leo Steinberg critiques in his essay. “Elegance,” “pattern,” and “composition,” along with the generic “beauty,” are the catchwords for this particular misunderstanding of art by scientists. Steinberg’s point was that if those terms really meant the same in art and science, why would people be driven by them to do things like break the fingers off Michelangelo’s “Pieta”?
      I think this is one aspect of the problematic that is sufficiently precise and bounded to be useful for conversations with scientists.

      1. Exactly, Jim. What can be done about this? It’s one thing for scientists who have nothing to do with art to harbor these ideas, but it’s quite another when it comes to those who’ve the nerve to opine authoritatively on the subject (mostly men, as it happens). I find this just baffling. But in either case, surely there must be some way to disabuse the scientific community of these misperceptions. But scientists would have to demonstrate sufficient interest for it to happen. Many of us artists at least *want* to understand science. How to convince them that what we do is worth learning about?

        1. I don’t think there’s a way to change that. In my experience, scientists who think that both science and art are “elegant” etc. also think art is fundamentally about mute appreciation. A prominent scientist whom I knew for years never once asked me to take him through a museum or gallery, because he assumed my own profession was an ornament to the only thing that mattered: silent, solitary “appreciation.” The entire edifice of the “Cafe Scientifique” (started by the British Museum) is based on the notion that a scientist can present a slideshow of her work and communicate something by sheer beauty.

  3. Thanks Suzanne for talking about knowledge.
    It seems to me that we are trying to grapple with profound shifts in how we produce knowledge and what is considered knowledge, and that our attempts to reach across boundaries stems from this.
    Clearly we are seeking openings. Ways of seeing with fresh eyes, with other eyes, what we see every day.
    And what you mention about Bateson’s metalogue is equally important. To try and be aware, as we move forward, of the context in which we operate.
    It seems to me that the early 20th century brought profound changes in the way we think about the world which we are still trying to integrate AND we have some serious new problems which we desperately need to solve.
    In order to address both these things effectively we need to understand the larger context in which we are operating (the paradigm) and find novel solutions (say to climate change). Is that not why we are doing trans-disciplinary work?

  4. Yes, trans-disciplinary work is a step in the right direction. Discourses concerning the “in-between-ness” of categories have circulated within the corridors of visual and critical studies for decades, including the field of science studies. The dyadic structure of art/science creates a problem in itself. When we experience a work of Minimalist sculpture, we don’t refer to it as
    art/phenomenology. In Minimalism artists employ the attributes
    of phenomenology and its perceptual underpinnings as a data bank for its discourse. Since there are so many varieties of artists
    and a large range of scientific disciplines, what do we mean by “sci-art” and its origins?

  5. Of relevance to this discourse. Date of article October 31, 2017:
    “In-text citations (APA style as opposed to MLA style, for those in the know) are creeping into philosophical writing and they do not belong there. Let me explain: It is traditional in papers in the humanities to use endnotes to provide source material – you put a little number in the text and a note at the end. Endnotes say something like: “1. This idea was most fully developed in R. Smith’s 2017 work Wankers and Hogwash (Pretence Press, 2017).” But scientists use a different style, in-text citations, which are parentheses containing the author of a study and a date (Smith, 2017). The idea here is that there was a study that demonstrated something you are claiming.
    But philosophy and art criticism prove nothing. Essays in criticism are not summaries of experiments done in labs. They just advance ideas. The use of this scientific reference style has crept into the humanities through the vaguely scientific social sciences (I’m looking at you, sociology). It has been welcomed by those who want to call criticism “research” so as to maximize its authority”.
    for the full article: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/lets-stop-pretending-academic-artspeak-reflects-actual-research/article36785084/?ref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theglobeandmail.com&

    1. To make things easier for readers, here’s Jim’s list of definitions of what me might mean by knowledge in the visual arts:

      (i) Tacit knowledge: things you don’t quite know yet, but know you may be able to do, or to describe. Tacit knowledge is held in suspension in a medium: it promises that it can be at least partly articulated, extracted from its material and brought into language. Of the possibilities on this list, this is the one that has attracted the most attention, although it isn’t always clear whether tacit knowledge is, finally, a different kind of knowledge from the others on this list.

      (ii) Visual knowledge: if visual art has a kind of knowledge that pertains to it, that is its possession and mode of articulation, then that knowledge might be called visual. This would include what modernists are said to have called “optical” knowledge, as well as knowledge that is said to inhere in the material or substance of the art, and knowledge said to inhere in the practice, disposition, or performance of the art. Such knowledge would be non-linguistic; it could only be found in the artwork, and not in the supporting materials for the PhD. Visual knowledge could be pointed to, indicated, paraphrased, analogized, but not articulated in language.

      (iii) Affective knowledge: if visual art is primarily concerned with feelings, emotions, moods, and other affective states, then its form of knowledge could be called affective. Recently the various forms of affect theory have attracted growing interest in the art world. Brian Massumi’s theories, the Affect Theory Reader,and the forthcoming book Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic are all concerned with kinds of affect theory. Affective knowledge is partly linguistic: it can be described, even if the description is structurally inadequate.

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