The silk collective | Konstantinos Tsioris, Tufts University
Art and science are both abstractions of the commonly and humanly perceivable. Both use a privileged language of expression.
This was my initial response to reading a blog post by Lizzie Crouch on science, art and emotion a couple of days ago. Lizzie was talking about the tendency for science to be experienced and thought of as cerebral, and art to be thought of as more emotional – science naturally ‘feeds’ the head, while art seems to ‘feed’ the soul. Can either be enhanced by borrowing some of the qualities from the other?
Science can definitely be humanised – whether that is in the anthropomorphic sense, or just in terms of the relevance of an abstract concept to human life. But can science be expressed in a further abstracted form – as art? Science is already abstracted from what we can perceive (as is art), so combining the two implies a double layer of abstraction.
This might make the nitty gritty of what the science ‘says’ harder to grasp or even invisible – but do most of us need this level of understanding? Isn’t that the role of a scientist – to study and learn and develop a special and privileged understanding of the intricate technicalities of science? So I don’t mind that loss of clarity.
And to be honest, losing detail is good for me. I want the big picture, the broad strokes, the key messages. And art can help me with that. So I’d like to think it might help other people too.
But what I think is really interesting is the idea that both art and science express a level of detail about their subject that is not readily apparent to the everyday, walking down the street, person. And they both express that detail in a specific and specialised language. In science that language is technical, jargon-ised. In art it is layers of meaning supported by a visual language of form, colour, texture.
I am more comfortable with the ‘language’ of science. I know how important specialised language is. I used to be a doctor and it really is necessary to be able to communicate with other professionals quickly, succinctly and accurately. And that is what specialised language provides. That technical shorthand. Common and standardised across the profession. That allows you to quickly comprehend and assess a situation and act promptly – effectively to save a life.
I feel like a stranger to this language in art. Whether that is painting, literature or poetry. I don’t speak the lingo. And while I can appreciate a nice painting, I know there is a whole level of meaning that I am missing out on. Does that matter? I don’t know. But the point I am rather poorly making is that it is not a case of throwing art at science to make one or the other more comprehensible. Both are privileged forms of communication – they have more in common than you might think. Both need decoding for the ‘concrete’ meaning to be apparent. But both are also nice things to see and appreciate to what ever level your understanding goes. And together they are just as enjoyable. Not more or less so. Just as enjoyable.