The Morning After

Gianluca Bianchino/ Session 1

A drunken conversation has often proven to be a good jump start to a great friendship since the vulnerable state of intoxication allows a level of truth and honesty to spill out of both parties (art and science). I’m certain we’ve all been in that exciting and yet naïve state of being (unless you don’t drink).  But in a drunken conversation there’s always a small window of opportunity for that truth and honesty to establish a lasting meaningful relationship before one of the parties gets carried away by the effects of escalating inebriation spoiling the credibility of their quarrel.  I would argue that the conversation between art and science has been drunk for too long now, certainly since the industrial revolution where the many failed attempts at collaboration started being recorded and probably further back in time, perhaps drunk since inception.  A good place to rethink that exchange of drunken ideas might be at breakfast the morning after the party. Perhaps this symposium is an opportunity for having a sobering breakfast after a drunken feast where lots of things were said that only made sense sporadically in odd regions of our brains, or better, the gut.  Sure it may start with a headache and a hangover but that’s what the hearty breakfast sandwich and the two cups of coffee are for.  Suddenly, when some clarity sheds in one of the parties will ask the slightly uneasy question that breaks the ice: about last night, what did you actually mean by that?

What I meant was this: The relationship of the two disciplines in the current state of drunkenness provides uneven results at best.  On a practical level science may be potentially benefiting from the input of art.  Art’s emotional and intuitive understanding of processes in nature may provide science with just the right degree of jolt to disrupt its linear thinking pattern.  The results could be stimulating in developing a broader unexpected approach in problem solving.  I understand that this version of the partnership, let’s call it Art-Science (60+% science), can work and even produce potentially beneficial results that could turn into practical use for humanity at large; particularly in the age of climate change this kind of interdisciplinary thinking is clearly encouraged.  The romantic view might be that one day in a post Exxon Universe an artist, or a group of artists, will illuminate a scientist (possibly in a drunken conversation) on how to generate the equation for producing inexhaustible renewable energy.  However, I am skeptical about the counter aspect of this relationship.  Where does science meet art and what are the specific benefits of this other version of the partnership beyond the aestheticized seduction?  This is perhaps where Sci-Art resides, solely as a branch of art, in which the artist is alone despite the attempts at dialog.  It is a branch in which art can tap into scientific theories and try to make sense of data but the question remains as to how can Sci-Art produce products that offer more than visualizations of scientific inquiries?  The problem of data based art remains an aesthetic purgatory for it isn’t clear if it’s able to reach beyond an illustration or interpretation of existing theories.  Technology alone may not solve this question because technology is a product of all disciplines.  Do we have here an opposite condition where artists are too emotional and unstable and need science to help contain that energy in order to produce a viable work of art? While this may appear like the logical mirror image to the first scenario, the Art-Science one, it isn’t necessarily true.  The methodologies developed for creating works of art are innate to artists.  Painting and sculpture studios in their essence have remained the same for centuries.  The necessity to make a work of art demands the development of a proper facility and set of tools, which artists have often crafted themselves, and still do even in the age of specialization.  In other words the use of technology does not justify science converging into the realm of art for help.  There must be a far deeper philosophical implication I hope this symposium will reveal.

The question of audience is baffling at the moment.  One interesting angle that Sci-Art can offer is accessibility to a wider audience that would otherwise dismiss most conceptual art as a classist affair.  This can certainly open a dialog with a positive propensity but the problem of a potential scientist investing monetarily in a given Sci-Art piece remains slim.  Art is considered expensive and people who invest in art are generally educated on either how that particular work holds its own against the avalanche of art history, or more suitably for our times, what is the potential for that work to accrue value in the greater art market. While the larger scientific community may be enthusiastic about a rising trend of artists using science as a muse I don’t see them ready to undertake the problem of longevity, which is critical for an artwork, and requires investment.  I think this issue is primarily rooted in our education system.  We don’t teach higher culture to our kids.  We primarily direct them from too young an age to become compartmentalized thinkers, aka specialists.

It is likely though that in the interdisciplinary future art and science will give rise to a type of third culture but the acceptance of this new entity may come down to economic imperatives and therefore practical use.  It’s hard to imagine that a third culture made of art and science will be set in a philosophical higher dimension that will redeem us from ourselves.  The power of art as a platform for dissenting intellectualism has been strongly weakened in the last few decades replaced for the most part by trendy lifestyles.  Poetry is dead (or dormant as a best case scenario) and now we have advertisement instead.  The visual arts are primarily alive because of the natural ability of the artist to solidify a poetic statement in a material object that can operate within a quasi-volatile market, in essence making its own currency. Had it not been for this economic model art may have joined poetry in the cemetery of the great expressions of the past and we would have been left with Hollywood instead as a consolation prize.  I suppose the markets can be seen as both a curse and a blessing in this case; they killed poetry but saved art, at what cost though?

4 Replies to “The Morning After”

  1. Greetings Gianluca!
    On the language of art and science, I just spotted this article on facebook and it is pertinent:
    “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.
    Here is the full article:

    1. Leonard! Thank you. I read the article and it is compelling to say the least and I immediately shared it with a scholarly colleague. Dangerous times! Certainly if Sci-Art wants to speak to scientists, which I don’t think it really is at the moment, it has to tone down the artspeak for starters. With the exception of specifically coordinated efforts, such as symposiums and residencies pairing artists and scientists, for the most part I see Sci-Art as still speaking to an audience of art enthusiasts (sometimes known as art goers-I’d be especially wary of these types). The relationship between compartmentalized movements in art, of which Sci-Art is one, and undefined audiences (that are primarily scouting art exhibits for good times and investment opportunities) gives further credence to the novelty aspect of that art movement.

  2. Leonard, I salute your ongoing campaign against intellectual posturing. Practitioners of this sort of thing may think they’re acquiring intellectual gravitas by association, but it seems clear to me that they’re only hurting art’s cause. I think I’ll bring this up in a separate post, because it came up at our live event the other night and deserves further exploration. But to Gianluca’s last couple of points: one of the things I find most troubling about art’s reach toward science is that in becoming more discursive, art becomes increasingly impoverished in its poetic dimensions. Your take on this is really interesting, Gianluca; I hadn’t really thought about the relationship between the commodification of art and the preservation of poetry. (And let’s not declare it dead! Just dormant, indeed.) If we could see it this way, I’d feel much better about the commercialism I find so pernicious in the art world (I’m not sure I can, however). What I’d like to see is more sci-art that takes on not the (discursive) knowledge-disseminating aspects of science but rather what Margaret Wertheim calls its poetic dimensions. The poetry, she suggests, lies in the *questions.* So far there’s been way too much emphasis on the answers.

  3. There is much discussion that references the term “sci-art”.
    Where does this term come from? What is its origin?
    Suzanne Anker

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