ScienceOnline'09 - thoughts on two cultures

In January, I will be co-moderating with Jessica Palmer on a couple of sessions at ScienceOnline'09.

Here are the first thoughts I published to the wiki for Art + Science: online and offline:

A big topic, so I’ll start where I’m familiar. Science opens up new territories for visual language and metaphor.

Using scientific discoveries, diagrams, principles and images to increase the visual language in art. This is something I strive to do with each piece. When taking history of western art 101, I recall being amazed at the idea that the general public of the Renaissance would have understood the significance of an orange on the table in a portrait. Or that much of Michaelangelo’s work was an attempt to portray platonic ideal forms.

Exploring the same sort of method for my work has led me in attempts to personify ‘extinction’ and ‘mitochondrial eve’ as beings rather than concepts, or Haldane’s precambrian rabbit quote as a puzzle. I regularly depict my wife in paintings and drawings holding diatoms, because they are beautiful, delicate, and (thinking of photosynthesis here) essential to life. An example outside of my own work would be Dali’s Christus Hypercubus (scroll down), or Jessica’s Aposematism. The golden ratio gave us this stunning cover composition in Imagine FX recently. In pop culture, I marvel at Davy Jones’ crew in the Pirates of the Caribbean series as monsters difficult to present to a public unaccustomed to detailed images of nature. I could go on.

The reverse is what’s difficult for me to see: how does science benefit from art? From viewing it, and resolving a problem or…?

Is art a parasite on science, except when used as illustration? Many naturalists are painters as well.

Seed magazine’s article by Jonah Lehrer in issue 13 was interesting. So was this Cocktail Party Physics post.

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Here are some more up-to-date thoughts I've been pondering lately, and I will update to the wiki. I think this is a better synopsis for where my head has been.
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The relationship between the cultures of art and science: does art act as a parasite on science? The benefits of scientific findings to the inspiration of art have numerous examples. Popular culture at large may benefit from art inspired by science. But does science ever benefit from art, other than illustration? Can art inspire science?

Good art usually is connected by metaphor and symbolic representations to its subject matter. Metaphor and symbols are by their very nature, imprecise descriptions of the world. Science, on the other hand strives for accuracy and precision. Is art only capable of being a metaphor for a small aspect of a single phenomena, and not the whole?

How does art inspired by, say, palaeontology differ from art inspired by physics? Will an illustration of a Mesozoic landscape always be inherently more precise than a sculpture inspired by quantum phenomena?

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