An abundantly illustrated history of the dynamic interaction between the arts and sciences, and how it has shaped our world.
Today, art and science are often defined in opposition to each other: one involves the creation of individual aesthetic objects, and the other the discovery of general laws of nature. Throughout human history, however, the boundaries have been less clearly drawn: knowledge and artifacts have often issued from the same source, the head and hands of the artisan. And artists and scientists have always been linked, on a fundamental level, by their reliance on creative thinking.
Art and Science is the only book to survey the vital relationship between these two fields of endeavor in its full scope, from prehistory to the present day. Individual chapters explore how science has shaped architecture in every culture and civilization; how mathematical principles and materials science have underpinned the decorative arts; how the psychology of perception has spurred the development of painting; how graphic design and illustration have evolved in tandem with methods of scientific research; and how breakthroughs in the physical sciences have transformed the performing arts. Some 265 illustrations, ranging from masterworks by Dürer and Leonardo to the dazzling vistas revealed by fractal geometry, complement the wide-ranging text.
This new edition of Art and Science has been updated to cover the ongoing convergence of art and technology in the digital age, a convergence that has led to the emergence of a new type of creator, the cultural explorer” whose hybrid artworks defy all traditional categorization. It will make thought-provoking reading for students and teachers, workers in creative and technical fields, and anyone who is curious about the history of human achievement.
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Eliane Strosberg holds an M.D. and a Ph.D. from the Free University of Brussels and was a Research Fellow at Harvard University. The cofounder of the cultural organization Rencontres Art et Science, she has also served as a consultant to UNESCO. Her other works include The Human Figure and Jewish Culture (Abbeville).
Excerpt from: Art & Science
1. The art and science dialogue
While the interaction between artists and scientists is often fruitful, a true dialogue was not always easy to establish. To begin with, dictionaries offer several definitions of art.” One describes art as a form of science or knowledge.” Another suggests that art is a series of means and procedures tending towards an end.” In some dictionaries, the concept of beauty appears in only fifth position as an element in art. Needless to say, creators do not depend on such descriptions to define who they are and what they do.
Many consider that works of art should be appreciated for their intrinsic value or their innovative vision of the world. In the past, art served religion, magnified the power of patrons, reflected skills aiming at producing elegant objects. Nowadays it is used mainly for self expression, and even as therapy.
When it comes to the word science,” most dictionaries offer a description which seems, at first glance, quite obvious. Science is the knowledge of the laws of nature. In other words, it embodies all studies which carry a universal meaning and which are pursued by research methods based on objective and verifiable facts.
However, we should bear in mind that for centuries, metaphysics, theology and philosophy prevailed; science, too, was once nurtured by beliefs. Concepts such as method and objectivity” have appeared only recently, and to some, science still remains mysterious.
Divergence and convergence
According to the mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell: In art, nothing worth doing can be done without genius; in science , even a moderate capacity can contribute to supreme achievement.” Such a strong opinion deserves a few comments.
Whereas the artist often tries to stir emotions, the scientist has to convince. Art looks into the why,” science also raises the question of how.” For the Cubist painter Georges Braque: art provokes, while science tries to reassure.” Science, working towards collectively recognized and precise objectives,tries to remove ambiguities, which art accepts and even emphasizes as inevitable in the realm of subjective experience.
It is commonly thought that everyone has the ability to appreciate art, while science is accessible only to some. What is more, scientists and artists generally consider themselves very different from each other. The left brain/right brain” hypothesis reinforces this notion. It states that scientists, whose tasks are primarily logical and analytical, mainly use the left side of the brain; the right side, seat of intuition and imagination, would be more developed by the artist.
Despite, or perhaps because of their differences, artists and scientists are bound by a mutual fascination: opposites attract. Is it that the artist’s need to draw from science merely expresses an urge to use whatever means are available to serve his art? Maybe the scientist’s search for convergence simply stems from an inclination to create coherent models to explain the world.
Together, art and science develop innovative concepts, often using the same subjects to the same end. Giving birth to ideas and forms is what makes an artist or a scientist. To scrutinize the cosmos, examine nature or study the brain, are explorations common to both. Following parallel paths, art and science are in many ways mutually enabling.
Cubist painting, for example, might be said to anticipate in certain respects the theory of relativity. In architecture and the performing arts, however, science and technology often work as catalysts.
Who is ahead of whom” is irrelevant, because the other always catches up in the end. Paul Valéry, the French writer, felt that: Science and art are the crude names, in rough opposition. To be true, they are inseparable I cannot clearly see the differences between the two, being placed naturally in a situation where I deal with works reflecting thinking matters.”
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