Monday, August 08, 2005

Art Loves Science and wants to go out

Science and Art, despite going about their businesses by seemingly different lights, occasionally desire each other, as it were glimpsing something attractively other-worldly in an after-work encounter. Part of the mutual desire must arise from recognition of a kindred soul, the common ancestors perhaps being creativity and patience.

After all, to make progress in either, an individual must endlessly observe, absorb the work of others, form a unique theory and push something new, no matter if it is imperfect or unlovable, into the world.

All very well, and despite some fumbling, occasionally something fruitful develops from Science/Art partnerships. Their less glamorous and rowdier cousins, Engineering and Craft, seem to have no difficultly in getting it on, and have been in and out of bed together for as long as anyone cares to know.

Now and again, there are official efforts to unite the two haughty suitors (thinking of the Wellcome Trust's or Research Council initiatives). Hoorah, you might imagine me saying, as practitioners are brought together. I generally find the the matches are too formal and unnatural. Here such-and-such-in-residence takes the letters of her name arranged in a double spiral, there, bits of the solar system is painted onto institutional car parks. The forced connections seem superficial and insincere, as well as probably taken down after two months. It is the processes and thoughts of the Two Cultures that really need to be connected, not their artefacts and manifestations.

Some more success at unifying the traditions comes when individual practice can be refracted through the glass of the other. UCL Graduate School has run a photo (actually any image) competition Research Images as Art / Art Images as Research for some years, and here's another one in Princeton (via Ratchet Up).

These things are fun to wander around, and wonder. To my mind, the most successful partnerships - bearing in mind that the dancefloor is the mind of one person - are those where both are trying to achieve the same things at the same time with the same materials, albeit with complementary steps. In other words, where the aesthetic values of the artworks and the scientific story visualised in the same document come from the same qualities in the image.

Sadly there seems, even in these exciting competitions, to be a tendency to hold up examples such as where some microscope slide or other just happens to look nice.

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