Art and Science: Together and Apart

“Blowing the Blues Away”
Copyright 2021, Molly Larson Cook
14″ x 11″
Acrylic and tissue on canvas

Despite some discussions about the similarities between art and science, it’s good to be clear: they both matter, but they are not the same.

David Bayles and Ted Orland make this abundantly clear in their Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.

From Bayles and Orland:
“It is an article of faith, among artists and scientists alike, that at some deep level their disciplines share a common ground…”

But they go on to note the differences:

Science advances at the rate that technology provides tools of greater precision, while art advances at the pace that evolution provides minds with greater insight–a pace that is, for better or worse, glacially slow. Thus while the stone tools fashioned by cave dwellers an Ice Age ago are hopelessly primitive by current technological standards, their wall paintings remain as elegant and expressive as any modern art. And while a hundred civilizations have prospered (sometimes for centuries) without computers or windmills or even the wheel, none have survived even a few generations without art.”

Bayles & Orland point out that in science the thing is to replicate an experiment in the hope of getting the exact same result. “But the artist, if asked whether an art piece could be remade with identical results, would have to answer no — or it wouldn’t be art.”

This does not mean, of course, that a scientist can’t also be an artist. Some are both. And art has a certain scientific quality to it when it comes to knowledge of paints, textures, materials, light…all part of an artist’s tool kit.

But the difference that I see between art and science is a matter of process. A person can be a scientist and an artist, but they will approach the work in two different ways. And each will have a primary activity and a secondary activity. The person will know the difference and will not try to be a scientist at the easel or the pottery wheel.

Bayles & Orland go on to say about the discussion:

“This is not meant to cast art and science into some sort of moral footrace, but simply to point out that in art as well as in science–the answers you get depend upon the questions you ask. Where the scientist asks what equation would best describe the trajectory of an airborne rock, the artist asks what it would feel like to throw one.”

So, if you are an artist, consider what questions you are asking. Architect Louis Kahn who designed many beautiful buildings said he asked the bricks what they wanted to be.

I’ve been known to ask the canvas and the paint what it wants to say. And because I don’t try to paint any particular song, the abstract expressionist paintings in my Colors of Jazz collection all get their names when I’m finished with the work and ask, “Tell me who you are?”

There are a few other questions that have been suggested for artists. Writer Henry James suggested these three and they are knock-outs: What were you trying to do? Did you succeed? Was it worth doing?

It’s the last question that boggles most of us. I mean, what is and is not worth doing in the daily challenge of our work, of our lives?

One thought on “Art and Science: Together and Apart

  1. The last question to me is the most important. I am re-reading Bird by Bird and I’m reminded that I write primarily for myself. If others enjoy it, or I get published, so be it. I see it is the same with your canvasses. You create thoughtful, colorful work that excites the viewer and reminds us to take time to look at the colors and hear the music.

    Hope you had a nice holiday, Molly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s