Jeanne Brasile/In thinking about the idea of a ‘convergence’ between art and science, I see this not so much as a union of two disciplines, but rather, a meeting of the minds. Sci-art is a trend, a catchy name to describe something that artists have been doing quietly for some time without an official title. If you think back, Sci-art has pretty much always been ‘a thing.’ Georges Seurat was studied in the science of optics. Robert Smithson was interested in the geometric properties of molecules and crystalline structures. Kenneth Snelson worked with the forces of physics and was inspired by atomic structures.
We like to name and organize things, it’s a human tendency built of our desire to make meaning and understand. Sci-art is another way of compartmentalizing an array of artistic and scientific approaches that are innate, and needed no name until rather recently – when marketing intervened and fads, then later memes, became the dominant culture. We get intensely interested in ‘things’ for a short amount of time. Then we move to the next obsession. Sci-art is now having its moment as a meme, but I suspect it will continue to be a way of relating to the world even when it’s no longer cool to be a Sci-artist.
Isaac Asimov said “Any increase in knowledge anywhere helps pave the way for an increase in knowledge everywhere.” Perhaps that is where the complementary relationship begins. Not that art and science will meld, but perhaps they can share ideas, methodologies, ways of thinking and seeing that stem from the other side. While artists and scientists surely have commonalities that many of us have elaborated on and to which we can agree, the essence of an artist is to create freely and generally without restriction. There are exceptions, such as artists working on commissions and those who are pressured by collectors or gallerists to create in a certain way, but that too is a choice and not a mandate as to working conditions. Artists are generally self-employed and can dictate their own work flows, benchmarks of success, investigations, etc. Scientists are usually in the employment of an institution and must have demonstrable results to show at the end of a trial, study, experiment, project or investigation.
Using the example of science-fi, it’s clear that science fiction is a literary genre. Nobody construes sci-fi as actual science with literary underpinnings. It’s clearly literature but it is definitely informed by science while not being held to the scientific truth of laws, or even theories. Science fiction can be pure imagination and that is where the artistic can play a part in the relationship between art and science. Art can offer a way of seeing and thinking outside normative scientific methods. The artist potentially benefits from this relationship by having access to tools, materials, technology, methodologies, fact-checking and raw materials to which they would not normally. For the artist, the relationship is more pragmatic. I think for the scientist, it could be a pragmatic relationship, that artists might help them solve problems through different ways of approaching a challenge, but ultimately, I think scientists kind of think artists are sexy and like many other people, they may like basking in the residue of this appeal that artists may bestow on them.