January 7, 2011

What is the difference between an artist and a scientist?

The word "art" is derived from the Latin "ars" and related to the Greek "techne," the root of "technology" and "technique." Artists, in the old sense, are technicians and skilled makers-of-things. What we know today as "Art," or "fine art," is a meaning that is only about 300 years old.

Science itself has a long history also dating back to classical times, but it really only established itself as a major social force in the Enlightenment, also about 300 years ago.

So this question of the difference between artists and scientists is a pretty new one and is constantly undergoing change. The notion that scientific process is a methodology for arriving at knowledge in a systematic and empirical manner is quite new. It was not until the mid 1930s that Karl Popper introduced the now famous requirement that scientific experiments should be "falsifiable." In other words, for a theory or idea to be considered in a scientific manner, it had to be possible to disprove. Science itself proves nothing. It can only show things to be false and, through a process of elimination, arrive at a good guess of truth.

So being a scientist means taking an interest in knowledge, and perhaps truth, but more specifically in predictability and in disproving untruths through rationality and observable experimentation.

What it means to be an artist has also recently changed in substantial ways. We still live with old notions that being an artist is somehow tied with a notion of genius or emotional turmoil or even degrees of madness. Being an artist means being a little crazy and having some extra degrees of moral and social freedom. Where a scientist is expected to be rational, artists are encouraged and even recognized by their irrationality. But this is an old stereotype that plagues art schools to this day. Most successful artists are, in fact, highly rigorous and methodical in their work.

Artists are also supposedly interested in human emotion, not like a psychologist who tries to generalize some rules about emotion, but through specific acts or objects that evoke emotions in particular people in particular ways. But this doesn't mean that artists aren't involved in rationality. Brecht, the famous German playwright, developed a theatrical style that intentionally alienated the audience and interrupted the illusions of the stage and the story in order to encourage people to think critically about what they were experiencing.

This division between artists and scientists also doesn't mean that artists don't make experiments in order to learn something about reality. Many artists (and designers of course) create multiple iterations of their work, trying it out on people to gauge reactions, modifying variables and changing their ideas though a kind of inductive reasoning process.

And of course, this is to say nothing of the recent trendiness of artists using new technologies and scientific advancements in their work. Eduardo Kac's transgenic bunny is a common example, but there are countless examples of these cross-over projects.

Back to scientists, this question of the difference between them and artists also assumes that science is not deeply creative, expressive work, which is of course not true. To be a good scientist, one needs to think in very wild and unexpected ways, one needs to be an active producer of things—a creative agent. Successful scientists also need to develop a sense of elegance and beauty and wonder — all attributes commonly associated with the arts.

So what is *the* difference between an artist and a scientist? I am beginning to think that it has something to do with the certainty, the definitiveness and the precision of science. An artist may make a good life out of being vague or ambiguous. There is no need for an artist to produce an answer. A scientist must really try to say exactly what they mean (hence the popularity of the mathematical language in their world). An artist can play with rhetoric. His work can misdirect, pull a hoaxes—he can make and publish and be recognized for the quality of his jokes.

A scientist, for example, would try to answer this question. An artist might do something else, like:

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Smart post and so good blog
thanks for you good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog British Museum and more Ancient Greece Geography thanks again admin