This has been sent to the NY Times:
A Response to the New York Times Article
Richard Panek's article "Art and Science: A Universe Apart" (New York Times, 12/14/99, Art & Leisure Section) might have been more accurately titled "Art and Physics: A Universe Apart." Science contains many subsets, of which physics is perhaps the most abstruse. To use physics as an example of the relationship between art and science sets an imbalanced standard, giving a distorted view and histrionical argument. Panek makes his case too easy by holding up string theory and quantum mechanics as the paradigmatic sciences. His argument looks weaker when we turn to genetics, evolutionary biology, cosmology, game theory, sociology, and human behavior-areas where many artists thrive.(1)
Yet, to assume that a composer, painter or short story writer lacks the capability to converse about quantum mechanics or superstring theory, invites comment. Science fiction writers/scientists Gregory Benford or Vernor Vinge hold their own in conversations of such high standards while also receiving applause from aficionados. Yet, for the mainstream layperson, the National Science Foundation supports a project called Visual Quantum Mechanics, and The Quantum Mechanics Institute explores possibilities that recent Quantum theories have opened up in Contemporary Art. The Internet is full of physics home pages. While many of these sites exhibit artistic drawings of superstrings and URLs of Quantum Mechanics multi-media visuals with RealPlayer and RealAudio(2), physicist John Lindner, PhD, expresses the especially recondite nature of this topic:
"In this theory, everything in the universe -- all particles and forces and
perhaps space-time itself -- consists of fantastically small strings under
immense tension, vibrating and spinning in a ten-dimensional superspace.
The ten dimensions are mathematically necessary to avoid tachyons
(faster-than-light particles) and ghosts (particles produced with negative
probability) ....Unfortunately, superstrings theory is very difficult to calculate with and has yet to yield testable predictions."
The impasse facing 20-century artists is not the absence of sense evidence
to help make the new physics understandable. We artists use our senses to
think about the universe around us, and we will explore many new dimensions
as we augment and add on to our senses. Yet, even if the artist exploits a
poetic license in striving for apotheosis, art, as science, requires
imagination and labor, trial and error, persistence and perseverance. "The
brain is hungry not for method but for content, especially content which
contains generalizations that are powerful, precise, and explicit."
Panek brings up a worn out issue: the argument that science is objective and art "purely subjective." This has often ignited verbal fires, as it is necessary to realize that art is not purely subjective. If so, Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum would not be standing, Henri Matisse's vibrant colors would dull and dim, and "Shakespeare in Love" would not have made it from paper to celluloid.
Oh Elitism-thou art a cool, clever thing crossing borders in multiple disguises, whether smooth obsidian luster, or to be a calculator in thy hand.
The opera "Chaos" is not an exacting keystone for the issues raised in this article pertaining to art and science, nor to content. As a cache without data, it is an example of the use of symbolic language of the sciences for design or effect. It might have been more impressive had the artist, Michael Gordon, been knowledgeable of the symbols he was using, but the fact that he used them fancifully is hardly a point of issue in the debate of whether artists are capable of comprehending and conversing with scientists!
Therein remains a question: How many artists can dance on the head of a pin
and still miss the point? While we must work at lightening speed to keep
up with the terms and advances in the sciences, as well as in our own field
of hypertechnology, the artist has a responsibility to her or his audience
(however plentiful or meager.) Laurie Anderson said recently at a
performance (Royce Hall, UCLA) that artists may need to get new professions, given the expansion of PhotoShop and desktop publishing. While used as a toss-away phrase, it coincides with my own thinking. Artists, as well as scientists, economists, physicians, and philosophers, etc. continue to upgrade their professions by learning new skills and developing new terms. Artistic content must arise out of culture like a phoenix. If artists are to be fully part of the new advances in science, we need to understand and use the vocabulary for it. This is progress.
When we look into a fire, we may observe the hypnotic flicker of the flame. We can also "absorb some EM energy in the 10 to the power of minus 5 meter range emitted by the highly exothermic oxidation reaction, and observe the turbulence in the thermally incandescent river of molecules forced upwards by the denser atmosphere surrounding." (Paul M. Churchland, Scientific Realism And The Plasticity Of Mind)
Observing the flicker, we may find ourselves in a new version of Enlightenment with science, technology and art spinning the universe around us.
(1) "Evolved Virtual Creatures", Karl Sims
"Dancing DNA", Mitsuhiro Yanagida "Plastic Math", Stewart Dickson "Primo 3M+" and "DNA Breakout", Natasha Vita More "Synthetic Sentience A-Life", Charles Ostman
Natasha Vita-More: http://www.natasha.cc Transhumanist Art Centre - Home of Extropic Art: http://www.extropic-art.com **NEW** Transhuman Culture InfoMark: http://www.transhuman.org PRESS RELEASE: "We are transhumans ..." Meme Orbits Saturn in 2004!
"The best defense is an aesthetic offense."