Thursday, September 27, 2012

Satellite of Love

In his recent blog post in The Guardian "Science is more Beautiful than Art," Jonathan Jones get it wrong, in my opinion. The tagline insists "science is overtaking art in its capacity to expand minds and inspire awe."

What's wrong here is his assertion that this is some new development and his position that it's a contest.

But let's back up. Jones starts off  by gorging himself on some low-hanging fruit:
[O]n Mars, Nasa's Curiosity rover has begun its mission to determine – metre by metre, rock by rock – whether the red planet was once able to support life. This new mission comes days after Curiosity captured a partial solar eclipse on Mars as its small moon Phobos crossed the face of the sun, appearing to take a tiny bite out of it.

And in the art world … well, let's see.

It has been announced that Damien Hirst got record attendances for his Tate Modern retrospective, while drawings by Andy Warhol are among works to be exhibited at the inaugural Frieze Masters art fair next month. Somehow, these bits of art news do not seem as thrilling as discovering the secrets of other planets, or the once-unfathomable oceans.
Then Jones goes even further down the path of pitting science against art:
It is science that now provides the most beautiful and provocative images of our world – not to mention other worlds. It is hard to name an image made by an artist in the last two decades that is as fascinating or memorable as, say, the Hubble telescope's pictures of the Eagle Nebula or the Whirlpool Galaxy.
And, finally, he calls on Leo to go in for the death blow:
Once, art and science truly worked as equals – in the researches of Leonardo da Vinci, for instance. In the 21st century, art rarely rivals the capacity for wonder that modern science displays in such dazzling abundance.
OK, so why do I think he got it wrong. Why do I think he's forcing an "us vs. them" narrative, when in reality the relationship is anything but contentious. First there's history. Images like the one below, from nearly half a century ago, were even then viewed as serious challenges to contemporary art:
And yet, rather than leaving artists dumbstruck by its profundity, space travel inspired countless new works and continues to today. From its huge influence on pop culture to its continual presence in the dialog of contemporary art (see, Cincinnati's Contemporary Art Center 2008 exhibition "Space is the Place" which featured "artists’ inventive response to space-age potential provides a back-to-the-future exploration of space travel's endless possibilities" and a show up at the New Museum through this coming Sunday called "Pictures from the Moon" described as "a focused selection of holograms from the 1960s to the present by several leading, contemporary artists."), art and science have continually and quite happily fed off each other for quite some time. 

Yes, you might think, art feeds off science, but what about the other way around? 

What Jones doesn't note in his match-up is how science is very aware of the importance of the way contemporary artists envision solutions to problems. Indeed, worldwide there are dozens of companies who invite artists to collaborate with their scientists:
Artist in Residence [A] list of organizations that offer opportunities for artists to collaborate with scientists, technologists, or professionals in business or industry. Many are experimental laboratories where artists collaborate with scientists. Several are university based. Many are in countries other than the US.
One in particular, in the UK no less, The Arts Catalyst, not only summarizes nicely through their name how art serves the sciences, but also nicely phrases what they get out of it :
The Arts Catalyst commissions art that experimentally and critically engages with science. We produce provocative, playful, risk-taking projects to spark dynamic conversations about our changing world.
Clearly scientists are very interested in artists' ability to expand minds and inspire awe.

Moreover, though, when has art ever created something as fascinating or memorable as what we can find in nature? What Jones is celebrating in his post are images that simply show us another view on the universe that has been right there, just unseen by us.

And while yes, that's exhilarating, what Jones is feeling is no different from how humans felt the first time they viewed the ocean or an erupting volcano or a bacteria via a microscope. The Hubble telescope images are beautiful and inspiring but because they are of the real universe and they are new to us.

Art's role is to help us make sense of the universe, not to replace it. It's not a battle.


Blogger William Miller said...

There's nothing in the Universe, here on Earth (which is technically part of the Universe) or in the minds of humans so spectacular that it can't be made dull and quotidian by our prolonged exposure to it. The Eagle Nebula, the music of Nick Drake and "Starry Night" are amazing until someone uses them to sell car insurance.

9/27/2012 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Ben Stansfield said...

I read this when it was published, and had a reaction along the lines of "why is this an either-or?"
I often enjoy Jones' posts on the Guardian, but this one was a head-scratcher. I get it, he doesn't like Hirst, and I totally get why, but there's lots more, WAY more, interesting shit out there than just Damien Hirst.

9/27/2012 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Picasso's Nude Woman in a Red Chair vs The Grand Canyon vs J Robert Oppenheimer. Who Wins? It's a fucking Photo Finish to me. Richard Serra vs The Great Pyramids.same thing to close to call. My advice to Artists Is to Create your own Axis, create your own universe. All the great ones did.

9/27/2012 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

Arguing about subjective or relative attributes is a great way to say you're close minded and glad to stay blissfully ignorant.

What is beauty? Without going deep, it's subjective not objective. There are rules of composition, color, etc. when carefully combined you can produce something visually pleasing. Nature is pretty good at that. Art pushes the envelope into unusual or unnatural directions to find new forms of beauty, challenges to existing definitions, and sometimes visually poetic answers that will stand as a testament to unrivaled creative genius that is man.

9/28/2012 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Everett said...

All those Hubble images stop at a graphic artist's desk/ computer before being released. A creative process is a creative process. Today art and science are just as intertwined as ever. One uses the skills and innovations of the other.

9/29/2012 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Rothko found the God Particle long before the Illuminati Puppets at Cern did.

9/29/2012 01:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I found the column disconcerting too.
Nature seems always to be awe inspiring - it is so much greater then us.
Whereas art is awesome and inspiring - , Just as this other has through their art, so we too can reach for greatness as well- we are part of the same humanity and can achieve such heights if we dare. The proof is there in the art.
Science expands our understanding, art expands our humanity. They counterbalance each other so that our knowledge doesnt exceed our connectedness to reality. Hence we can chose to avoid what someone has written elsewhere, to the effect that comfort and security has replaced truth and understanding.
You are right Edward, the two fields aren't in competition for the same realm. but complementary and essential in many ways to each other.

10/01/2012 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

as an aside

this is fun
- i still question if it is really art

its data-graphics for sure - it marries science, robotics, sleep,event/performance,unconscious, marketing, promotions and art ....

but art? certainly at the borders of both science and art

10/01/2012 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Gam, I consider it Art.Very interesting.I want to see the robot paint a nightmare.

I think You and Edward might like this 1961 Twilight Zone episode . Look how Rod Serling holds His Cigarette you know he is a Rebel. This Video has it all, Perfection .nothing like this would be ever shown on Television in 2012.

The Obsolete Man

10/02/2012 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ignore previous link.

Uncut Complete Obsolete Man.

10/02/2012 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Jones grasp of science turns out to be as slender as his grasp of art.

10/12/2012 03:35:00 AM  

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