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 just a new vocabulary of forms, but added a new ontological paradigm that competes still with the older one, a path for art that, it bears mentioning, paralleled the emergence of a radical new scientific worldview during the same mid-1800s period (Darwin, Pasteur, Planck, Einstein, etc).

Up to that time, traditional cosmologies were dominated by fictional/supernatural beliefs about how the world was ordered, and they were given form in the pictorial/fictional space of representational painting. One might claim that to the degree science of the period challenged such traditional models of reality, the traditional authority of pictorial space as an adequate place for art to symbolically represent a changing paradigm, became suspect — and art responded by transforming paintings from being windows through which one peered into fictional/pictorial worlds, to paintings being actual real objects in the same space that art’s creators and onlookers themselves occupied. Abstraction closed the window of painting, and by the time Mondrian, Malevich and others had turned paintings into objects on a wall rather than windows to look through, art can be interpreted as having declared aesthetic experience and its commentaries could, or should, exist in the same world as the one that science was studying. Metaphorically, this switch from pictorial to real can be claimed to have echoed the way in which scientific discoveries of the same period challenged the authority of the fictional/supernatural and substituted the real/natural as explanations for ourselves and the universe.

During the course of the 20th century, one art movement after another reinforced the paradigm of art as real object, from the New York School, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Earthworks, Art and Technology, Media Art, Installation art, to Interactive art in which the spectators themselves are active forms of the experience — and I propose that all of these can be seen as having embodied the trend-to-real originated in the 19th century as foundation for an eventual emergence of Sci-Art. Although it may likely someday acquire a different name or a further evolved consciousness, Sci-Art is I think a part of this longer continuum, is just emerging, and is not in any way a fad.

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