Response to Taney via Dan

Linda Francis/ I certainly agree with Dan Weiskopf’s  well taken points and enjoy his caveat -as if we could know. And Taney: that this romance has been going on through history and your observation: “Beneath all the cynicism and irony that set in with postmodernism it’s hard not to detect a really deep sadness compounded by a pervasive sense of insecurity about art’s agency as a cultural force.” Witnessing the demoralization of young art students in the face of postmodernism was tough. I realized that you cannot take a young developing cohort and tell them that their ideals and aspirations are fictions without derailing their development. Perhaps science/art is an escape from the wreckage, propelling the self into the comfortable zone of the outlier — Dan’s point #5.  And subtext:” The Matrix”.

 

6 Replies to “Response to Taney via Dan”

  1. Hi Linda, your point that “[p]erhaps science/art is an escape from the wreckage, propelling the self into the comfortable zone of the outlier” is an apt observation. I think this is also behind Taney’s question about transcendence. At least some work seems to draw on scientific imagery precisely in order to suggest a vision of transcendence (of humanity, its perspective, its limits, etc.). If one thinks of art as being traditionally linked with a search for transcendence, then science-based art is not a departure from this tradition but just another incarnation of it.

  2. Agreed Dan, and in thinking about conditions necessary for “transcendence” on more mundane fronts, we are thrown back to the question of whether it is possible for art and science to find a common language since it is necessary in some respects for artists to position themselves at a certain remove from their own practice, the larger culture and accepted rules. At the same time, underlying formal structure is one of the ways to identify art and use to apprehend it. In that regard I would ask if those structures mimic the organization of the brain and if we can find analogs in scientific thought and then be able to communicate on equal structural footing. The questions of category broached by Stephen Nowlin inherent in the sense and context of his moving and beautiful exhibitions I would relate more to the idea of data in your point #1, how it is used and what kind of knowledge it creates.

  3. “Beneath all the cynicism and irony that set in with postmodernism it’s hard not to detect a really deep sadness compounded by a pervasive sense of insecurity about art’s agency as a cultural force.”
    -and-
    “Perhaps science/art is an escape from the wreckage, propelling the self into the comfortable zone of the outlier”

    Just wanted to chime in here that I totally concur with these statements. I certainly feel this was the case for me in art school and this drove me (secretly) toward science as being the conceptual underpinning to my work. Really appreciate these sentences Taney and Linda as well as the lists made by Dan!

    1. Yeah, when I was in art school it wasn’t so much the conceptual allure of science that first drew me to it (although that was certainly attractive), but rather the discourse surrounding it. The language of critical theory, then in its heyday, was thoroughly unappealing to me. Most of it struck me as bloated and pretentious, especially when parroted by my fellow art students, who, when pressed, couldn’t tell you the first thing about what any of it meant. The whole thing seemed like little more than a game whose point wasn’t to communicate but rather to impress. It was a really lonely time. After school I’d walk down to the Barnes and Noble Scholarly Annex on Fifth Avenue and set up camp in the science section till well into the evening. There I discovered that not only do people in the sciences write to communicate, but that they often do so with tremendous eloquence and passion. And, crucially, they are interested in truth, which had of course become a dirty word in an art world newly awash with cultural relativism. And much to my surprise, I also discovered that there were profound resonances between certain aspects of the practice of science and what I was discovering about making art. I’ll never forget the first time I read Jacques Hadamard’s The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field, or G.H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology, or anything by Einstein, Carl Sagan, or Stephen J. Gould (I could go on and on). Next to these, the irony and cynicism I was steeped in at school seemed not just deadening but also, well, cowardly. Even if ultimate truth proves beyond our grasp, there’s something so noble and beautiful about its pursuit.

      There is also, of course, the more pernicious side of science (e.g., the deleterious effects of its mechanistic worldview, its occasional abuse of claims to value-neutrality to advance morally suspect agendas, etc. – this list could also go on). But for me this would only come later. All of this is to say that one of the things I applaud about the sci-art movement is its rejection of both the extreme forms of relativism birthed by postmodernism and, thank heaven, its language.

  4. Science as a vehicle for transcendence — this is a fascinating insight. Thanks to everyone for sharing your personal motivations!

    My own story goes in the opposite direction. Although I was good at some aspects of science, the social and material cultures can be impersonal and lacking in visual appeal. Instead, I found the transcendence I longed for in the arts (first in music, then in visual art). Here was a type of beauty that could stay with me for days and years, that I felt somatically and not just intellectually. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side….

    1. Werner’s observation that the arts offered him “..a type of beauty.. that [he] felt somatically and not just intellectually” nails it if we think/feel that the artist has the means to embody science.

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