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December 16, 2002

Art is Not Science

Friedrich --

I was kicking around a few notions for the last week or so. Then this morning they came into focus and spilled out of me in the form of a kinda-essay. Ever have that happen? Strange, but fun. Rather than re-jigger it into a piece of correspondence, I thought I'd just run it as is. Forgive the length -- this morning I was too-much-coffee-man. Very curious to know your thoughts about it.

In this country, many of us come to the arts through school. Thank heavens for the opportunity -- but there are downsides to this too. One is that weíre often left with an academic/professorial view of the arts that it can take years to shake. Another is that too many of us wind up feeling too deferential to the academic/professorial class. They were in charge when we learned about the field; why shouldnít they continue to be in charge now?

I take it that part of the mission (if youíll forgive the term) of 2Blowhards is to contribute in some small way to the busting-up of the modernist/academic mafia. A quick aside to readers: youíre likely to encounter something called ďpostmodernismĒ being offered as a remedy. It doesnít hurt to be wary of the claims made for it, because in practice postmodernism is too often just another academic theory. It bears the same relationship to actual freedom as a theory of humor does to a joke.

One of the ways in which the taste mafia (the academics, the foundation people, the gallery owners, magazine editors, publishers, collectors and more) maintains its control is to present the arts as something like science -- deeply serious and very complex, and with a linear history leading to present-day theories and concerns. Their goal is to make contemporary art seem not just exciting, difficult and advanced (and thus in need of explicating and promoting by -- you guessed it -- the taste mafia), but also the inevitable consequence of a long and complicated history. We have no choice but to accept this vision -- to grovel, agree, and try to live up to its demands.

We can be forgiven, I think, if we suspect that one of the arts mafiaís real goals is to maintain its own monopoly on taste.

In fact, art and science have little in common. However much science is influenced by such factors as personality and culture, itís empirically based; itís testable. The powder goes ka-boom when a match is touched to it or it doesnít. Actual progress is made; disputes between rival views are finally adjudicated. If you understand the science of today, you basically understand all of science. (And letís set aside for the moment the kind of babble about ďuncertaintyĒ and ďchaosĒ that art intellectuals love to indulge in. As far as I can tell, theyíve got no better a grasp on the scientific meaning of those terms than I do.)

In art, none of this is the case. Testable? Well, the success of ďStar WarsĒ certainly demonstrated something about what movie audiences were ready for in the mid-í70s, but ďMcCabe & Mrs. MillerĒ has probably meant more to actual filmmakers. A lost weirdo painter (Henry Darger) is discovered and causes a sensation; a previously unknown art tradition (Tuva singing, for instance) gains notice. A prominent artist -- Longfellow, for instance -- is forgotten.

In the field of art, all this is normal. In science, it wouldnít be. A great discovery remains a great discovery; and no oneís reviving the theory of phlogiston.

One helpful way of picturing the difference between art and science is to consider the history and anthropology of science. These are interesting fields, but are they the same thing as science itself? In fact, itís quite possible to do major science while knowing next to nothing about scienceís history and anthropology.

The history and anthropology of art on the other hand pretty much embody art, art being more a matter of experience than of something distillable down to equations and results. Dutch genre painting and Maori shields donít lose their fascination or validity simply because something called ďprogressĒ has been made; they may fall out of fashion, but theyíre always there to be experienced and rediscovered. One kind of art doesnít invalidate another kind of art.

Thereís no shortage of actual knowledge to be gleaned in the arts, or objective material to be gotten familiar with -- itís a real field. Thatís why introductory and survey courses can be so important. That's also why study, comparing notes with friends and critics, reading history, brushing up on aesthetic theory, and perhaps even checking in on cultureblogs can be so helpful. Thereís a lot of hard knowledge out there, and it can be looked at with a genuinely beady eye.

But there are two elements about the arts that make it more mooshy than science. One is the sheer amount of art. Moghul art, Incan art, Mexican folk art, tribal carvings, Oklahoma realism ... No one can know it all. Iím a painting fan, but I have no famliarity at all with, for instance, the history of Chilean painting. There may be Chilean painters who could rattle my world -- Iíll probably never know. (Another difference: in science, you can more or less trust what an expert in a field tells you. In art, while the expert may possess lots of trustworthy information, thereís no way he can predict what the experience of new work is going to be like for you.)

Because no one can know it all, thereís no one in charge who can say with any real authority whatís what in all cases. Observations can certainly be made, theories can certainly be floated, knowledge can certainly be imparted. Critics can point out artists, works and qualities in works that you might not notice on your own. But thereís no supreme authority out there, and there never will be. You can pick up a lot from a lot of different sources and authorities. But you finally put it together for yourself.

Plus, in art, unlike science, thereís also the strong subjective element. Taste, pleasure, personal interest and personal responses are all central to the art game. Itís quite possible to know everything about WPA photography yet still not dig the work, for instance. Itís probably more interesting to try to figure out why you donít dig it than it is to simply reject it -- thatís part of the adventure of art, as well as a good way to develop your tastes and interests. But thereís nothing wrong with simply rejecting the work. No oneís hurt by the rejection, and the field itself isnít damaged either. Your personal responses are as important as the external facts; in the arts, your personal responses, feelings, and reflections are in fact as objective as the external facts.

(All this said, the way kids today think that all they have to do is respond -- and their aversion to knowledge -- is pretty horrifying. But thatís another posting.)

So why does the taste mafia try so hard to make us believe that everything always leads to where we are now, and to whatís being produced now? Ahem: it couldnít be because this approach puts them charge, and fortifies their position, could it?

Their view of art involves a lot of hocus pocus, and relies heavily on moral (and, to be truthful, political) pressure. The other evening, for instance, I was at dinner with some artists and critics. Kandinsky came up, and I volunteered that I donít dig his paintings much. ďYouíre wrong,Ē said an art critic. It was one of those moments you stumble into in the arts. My critic friend evidently believes that itís wrong to dislike Kandinsky. On what basis? On the basis of Kandinskyís greatness.

Yet to consider it wrong to dislike someoneís work because of its greatness is to presume that people are under an obligation not just to defer to the general ďgreatnessĒ consensus (Iím semi-happy to do so), but also to get their tastes in line with it. But do people have that much conscious (let alone intellectual) control over their pleasure responses?

I certainly don't, and I certainly don't want to. In my case, thereís a lot of art thatís considered great that I donít dig (Dostoevsky, Henry James, Mahler), and much art thatís considered frivolous or minor that I love (Firbank, Margaret Sullavan, Iris Dementís ďMy Town,Ē Joe Brainerd). Would my critic friend prefer that I be dishonest about my responses? Does she think that Iím not entitled to my reactions? But Iím not an uncultured know-nothing. As for Kandinsky, I know his work pretty well, and have done an average amount of seeing it live and reading about it. Iím happy to acknowledge that some impressive people think the world of Kandinsky, and I know perfectly well that Kandinskyís work has been influential. Iíd be a fool if I didnít know this. But I still donít enjoy Kandinskyís paintings much.

Whereís the sin? Only in a world where aesthetic responses and matters of taste have been turned into urgent matters of morality. (Not a world I, for one, am interested in inhabiting.)

The taste mafia is selling deterministic hocus pocus, much of it traceable back to Hegel, and much of it having to do with the necessity of expressing the spirit of the age. The fact is that nothing about the direction art goes in is inevitable; we arenít under any obligation to resign ourselves to, accept, or enjoy what the taste mafia is pushing at us today. Art extends vertically through time and horizontally around the globe, and youíre allowed to explore it (and respond to it) as you see fit. You can choose where, how, and with what to involve yourself.

Is this a caving-in to relativism? No, because the history and anthropology of art situate us. (Taste has its history too.) Science, economics, and non-art history can all anchor our enjoyment of art, too -- helping us understand the chemistry of cookery, for instance, or the role that developments in banking played in the flourishing of Renaissance art. Evolutionary theory can help us understand the origins and development of artistic forms, as well as stimulate our thinking about where art may come from, and what purposes it may serve. Knowledge, taste, history, form, culture: all have empirical existences, even if they too grow and morph over time. Educated people may one day make fun of Kandinsky -- and that wonít change the fact that at one time he was considered great.

But oneís personal experience of art is as important as any of this -- and thatís certainly something that canít be said of science. No one cares, or should care, what your opinion is of quantum physics, while much of being involved in the arts is a matter of having personal experience of the field. The taste mafia, though, wants us to think that art, and judgments about art, are complicated matters best left to experts -- it can sometimes seem as though their real goal is to talk us out of our own responses.

This is something art-going Americans should learn to be more wary of. We have a strong tendency to be culturally insecure, and where cultural questions go we too often look to Europe (ie., experts, intellectuals, and critics) for validation. We try to live up.

Perhaps itís time to stop doing so, and to bring the hocus-pocus to an end. Weíre out of school now; we donít have to take orders, or defer to Teacher. The lovely thing is that all it takes to make the mafiaís spell come to an end is for us to say, ďNope, sorry, Iím just not buying it any more. You experts may have something to contribute. But that monopoly you've enjoyed for so long? Finito.Ē

Itís even more lovely (if a tad vertigo-inducing) to realize that the reins donít have to be forcibly ripped from their hands. Why? Because there are no reins.

Incidentally, in an attempt to forstall one particular line of dispute ... Iím not trying (and never would try) to make the case that if I like something, that makes it art. My personal preferences and tastes are of intense interest to me and of some small interest to a handful of people who are gracious enough to put up with me. I do enjoy offering tips, discoveries and suggestions. But, however much I enjoy making my own case, Iíd never insist that anyone agree with me, or with my responses or evaluations.

There are plenty of people who are eager for their opinons about art to prevail. Iím not one of them. I do cheer for my side some -- Iím not inhuman. But I save my real enthusiasm for the game itself.

How does this rant go over with you? Grateful for your thoughts.



Update: Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata has picked this topic up and run with it, and some leavers-of-comments add their own insights too. I'm pleased that Brian is sympathetic to my position, though slightly mortified that he makes it so much better than I did. The entertaining carrying-on is readable here.

posted by Michael at December 16, 2002


Interesting stuff, although I can't shake the feeling that you're setting up some pretty fragile straw men here. Do you really think that most people like Joseph Beuys because they're told to? I might possibly agree that most of the people who like him like him because they're told to, but in general, I think the Great American Public is refreshingly immune to being told what to like and what not to.

More solidly, I think you're wrong about science. You write:

However much science is influenced by such factors as personality and culture, itís empirically based; itís testable. The powder goes ka-boom when a match is touched to it or it doesnít. Actual progress is made; disputes between rival views are finally adjudicated.
I don't think this is true, and I think you need to read a little more Feyerabend. And as for disputes between rival views, have you been following (just to pick an example off the top of my head) the Stephen Jay Gould vs Richard Dawkins debate? It's hard to see how that one will ever be adjudicated to the satisfaction of both sides. Certainly it's not a question of whether the powder is going kaboom or not.

Posted by: Felix Salmon on December 16, 2002 9:41 PM

While I agree with most of what's here, the view of science presented is a bit naive...I forget which famous person said that "science advances one funeral at a time."

If your work threatens that of someone famous (an Einstein, a Hawking, etc.) you most likely will NOT make it past the 'peer review' process to being published, and hence receiving grants, fellowships and the like, no matter the truth of your work.

You'll get 're-discovered' years after the Person your theories challenged is dead and your published-in-a-backwater-journal work is found by someone re-exploring past 'dead ends.'

But I think you're spot on about the art world :-)

Posted by: David Mercer on December 16, 2002 10:30 PM

Happy to admit to being mighty naive about science, and looking forward to being told how - many thanks to both of you for shedding some light.

I think there's one point on which the science/art comparison, despite my naivete, is valid, which is this: in science, over time, something like progress is made. More and more is understood about how things actually work, about how they hang together and fall apart. Despite politics and personalities, despite philosophical conundra about theories and truth, it's still possible to talk today in a better-informed way about many things -- electrons, gravity, the chemical composition of the sun -- than it was not so long ago. Progress of a scientific sort has been made, and general agreement about the best available knowledge and ideas can be roughly reached.

I don't think that this can be said about the arts, except perhaps about brief bursts. Where a culture goes from having little art to a lot of art, for instance, you could say progress has been made. A style is born and reaches fruition -- that's a kind of (generally) very short-term progress. But then the style fades out (or doesn't), and other new styles are born. And the arguments about what's important and what's not reformulate themselves over and over again. If science moves in some roughly, gropingly linear way, art seems to exist on another plane, turning around and around in innumerable circles.

And longterm ... While you can certainly say that science is a more powerful and substantial field today than it was 1300 years ago, can such a thing really be said about art? This week's Hollywood blockbuster is an impressive melding of money, technology and talent. But is it artistically an advance on the gold artifacts of Sutton Hoo?

Felix -- an excellent point about how much most Americans attend to their own likes and dislikes. And god bless 'em for it. At the same time, the way taste-and-art things are so polarized in this country can be a bit of a drag, or so I find. On the one hand, all the down-to-earth millions who say "fuck it" where culture-with-a-capital-C is concerned and get on with their lives. On the other hand, people who are actually interested in Culture but who buy so totally into the academic-expert point of view that they seem to have lost track of their own tastes, let alone their own common sense. This polarization annoys me somewhat. Why shouldn't sensible people be more open to Culture? And why shouldn't Culture people be more open to common sense and common experience? But I suspect this is my own peculiar hobbyhorse. Does it bug you much?

Many thanks to both of you for the observations and input.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2002 11:48 PM


On your recommendation looked a little bit into Feyerabend. According to one description I came across: "Feyerabend saw himself as having undermined the arguments for science's privileged position within culture, and much of his later work was a critique of the position of science within Western societies. Because there is no scientific method, we can't justify science as the best way of acquiring knowledge. And the results of science don't prove its excellence, since these results have often depended on the presence of non-scientific elements, science prevails only because ĎTHE SHOW HAS BEEN RIGGED IN ITS FAVOUR.' (SFS, p.102), and other traditions, despite their achievements, HAVE NEVER BEEN GIVEN A CHANCE." (Emphasis added.) My unease with this statement is made more extreme by this remark: "One of the projects which Feyerabend worked on for a long time, but never really brought to completion, went under the name ĎThe Rise of Western Rationalismí. Under this umbrella he hoped to show that Reason (with a capital ĎRí) and Science had displaced the binding principles of previous world-views not as the result of having won an argument, BUT AS THE RESULT OF POWER-PLAY." (Emphasis added) This sounds remarkably similar to Nietzsche's views, except that Feyerabend seems unable to accept or endorse the main Nietzschean idea, that the "play" of power is itself a remarkably thorough test of an idea. Admittedly, this Nietzschean test doesn't measure an idea's ultimate description of reality, but of its social and practical efficacy, which are often in an difficult tension. (For a vivid example, try military history, in which social authority structures are in constant tension with battlefield efficacy--a situation that parallels science, I would suspect, quite closely.) Are you suggesting that the art world works the same way? That's an interesting thought; that the contention of of "movements" and art theories are instruments of social ambition and artworld "will to power," in which success is consolidated by more cleverly calculated appeals to the aggregated psychological needs of the art market.

Posted by: Friedrich on December 17, 2002 1:34 AM

Michael -- I'm tempted so say that 'twas ever thus. What you say about the Artistic Establishment may be true, but I don't think it's new. When it comes to High Culture, people need a certain amount of reassurance that they're on the right track. You can't simply rely on your own response, for it's hard to know ex ante what response one's looking for: is it the response one has to a weepy movie-of-the-week on the telly? the response one has to a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster? the response to the final movement of Mahler's 9th? You get my drift. Once we're told that the latter is of a "higher" nature than the first two, we get an idea of what we're looking for. But even then we need guidance: what is it about Puccini that makes him cheaper than Beethoven? What is it about Tchaikovsky which is bringing him from closer-to-Puccini to closer-to-Beethoven? And fine art is harder still, since audience response is so much more evanescent. Is it the fineness of our response which makes Rembrandt a better artist than Manet? To ask the question only points out how ridiculous it is.

So we have two choices: appeal to authority, or a pomo anything-goes I-know-what-I-like-ism. The Culture sheep go for the first, you go for the second, and all power to you if you want to declare Puccini superior to Beethoven. The problem is that your stance is very close to the kind of emperor-has-no-clothes stance that any number of know-nothings took not only when first faced with Carl Andre, but also when first faced with Monet and Van Gogh. Many cultured people don't want to run the risk of looking like uncultured people. You have an infinite amount of space on 2Blowhards to demonstrate just how cultured you actually are, but in the context of, say, a brief conversation over cocktails, someone with your views might be considered more of a schlub than an iconoclast.

I've long thought that the reason people spend a lot of money on designer clothes is not for the clothes themselves but for the reassurance that wearing an expensive label gives them. If I know my sweater cost $800, I can feel pretty confident that if someone doesn't like it, they're wrong and I'm OK. On the other hand, if I find some old thing for $8 which I think is great, but then people don't like it, then I have no such reassurance at all. Likewise with taste in art.

Friedrich -- I wasn't actually suggesting that the art world works in a Feyerabendesque way, but now you raise the idea, I think it's a perfectly wonderful one, and could explain a great deal. I'm going to jump straight into the last Feyerabend book I bought (the posthumous Conquest of Abundance) and see if this one stands up. What a great idea, and what a great marriage of Philosophy of Science to Aesthetics!

Posted by: Felix Salmon on December 17, 2002 10:58 AM

Kinda off topic, but if you're interested in the humanities' misuse of science, check out Higher Superstition by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt. Great great book.

Posted by: Brian on December 17, 2002 10:59 AM

As an art historian and medievalist, I've often felt that my colleagues working in more fashionable areas -- modern and contemporary, in particular -- walk an awkward line in trying to be both historians and critics.

The fundamental conflict between making value judgements and studying the past objectively has done much to undermine the reputation of art history as a serious discipline.
Hope to have a longer essay on this very topic eventually at Cronaca.

Posted by: David on December 17, 2002 11:38 AM

David -- it seems to me that, in a nutshell, Michael is contrasting the impossibility of objectivity in art appreciation with the necessity of objectivity in science. Personally, I think that there can be a surprisingly large amount of objectivity in the former, and that there's a surprisingly large lack of it in the latter.

You seem to be going one step further than Michael, and expanding the Realm of the Purely Objective to include not only science but history (and specifically art history) as well. But surely if postmodernism has taught us anything, it's that objectivity is a chimera in the humanities in general. "Studying the past objectively," as you put it, is no more possible than reading a book objectively.

Posted by: Felix Salmon on December 17, 2002 1:01 PM

I think our theoretical apparatus may be letting us down a bit here. Obviously "objectivity" is not what it's cracked up to be in either art or science or history; there's a great deal of politics involved. However, that doesn't mean that, for want of a better way to put this, "reality doesn't push back" on these social structures. Wars get fought (and lost), evidence piles up in the hard sciences, social policy seems to improve or degrade communal living, etc. I think that's why Michael and I are attracted to an evolutionary view of the world; it's a way to envision how the competing subjectivities and social structures bounce off each other (and the mysterious substratum of "reality")to create the cultureverse. I suspect that no purely social construct (one with no substratum of reality) could hold any of our attentions for more than a few minutes (unless, possibly, it was our own); ergo, we all at least suspect that even art has such a substratum and we're trying to get a glimpse of it. In my case, I tend to do that by looking at many different kinds of art in many different contexts. I can agree that Feyerabendian relativism--or, as Neitzsche referred to it, perspectivism--is a fact of life (and certainly my point of view on history), but it seems to me that Feyerabend, among others, is missing the boat by going too far when he posits science or art or economics as being a purely social construct: how boring and fundamentally trivial.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 17, 2002 1:50 PM

Michael -

Great post that I would recommend to all people who cherish liberty, not just art aficiondos. Thanks.

Posted by: John Venlet on December 17, 2002 2:37 PM

He's not some Frenchy poststructuralist, Friedrich! He was a first-rate physicist who then moved into the philosophy of science and came up with some extremely interesting (and empirically grounded) theories about how science develops, and how the idea of "scientific method" is a complete mess. (His most important book is called Against Method; I highly recommend you read it before you start saying that he thinks there's no "substratum of reality" underlying science.) There's a lot of reality, not only in Feyerabend's conception of science, but also in his philosophy.

Posted by: Felix Salmon on December 17, 2002 3:20 PM

Oops, trying to be too clever there, guess I can't write anything in angled brackets. It's probably obvious from context, but I was defending Paul Feyerabend.

Posted by: Felix Salmon on December 17, 2002 3:27 PM

Wow, doncha love it when one of these things takes off? Not for the first time, I appeal to the sociologists out there: hey, how about a study that tries to explain why some postings take off and some just sit there? (Folks! The guest posting from Yvonne Harrison a few postings down will tell you more about the reality of art than this lame posting does.) Or maybe marketing experts would be more interesting on the subject...

I'll let my philosophical betters duke it out over Feyeraband, who I doubt I'll ever catch up with. I spent years attending to fancy Continental thinkers and got far too little out of the effort. I remember wrestling with Foucault for a few weeks in the late '70s and finally thinking, You know, this isn't about the world at all. All this is really about is this guy's taste for S&M sex. Years later, I met a guy who was preparing a Foucault biography. I said, Hey, are you going to go into the S&M angle? And he was shocked -- he thought he had himself a scoop on the subject. Apparently panic-struck (I think the promise of sex detais had gotten him a sizable advance), he asked me how I knew about the S&M. And (this is one of the few moments of real intellectual triumph I've had in my life, so indulge me) I answered, "I read him."

Anyway, no matter how gray or smudgey the edges can be made, I still contend there are differences between the art way-of-knowing-and-proceeding, and the science way-of-knowing-and-proceeding. Is anyone seriously contending that there is no difference between the two? Smudgey edges aside? If so, please speak up and spell out your reasons -- I'm genuinely interested. And if there aren't any real differences between the two fields, why have decon and po-mo made such devastating (and to my mind destructive) headway in the liberal arts, while not making much of a dent in the sciences?

I'm also, perhaps vainly, hoping that my posting's real point came across, though, which is this: since art isn't science (ie., a forward-driving intellectual adventure whose results are so complicated that it takes experts to evaluate new statements), we shouldn't let the arts taste mafia carry on as though it is.

Felix makes the good point that people need guidance -- agreed! What I don't think they need is a taste mafia. People offering suggestions and guidance, sure. But laying down laws from on high? I mean, if someone wants to carry on like that, it's a free world. But "it's a free world" also means that we should feel free to be amused by (or to ridicule) his posturings. It's really, and finally, up to us. I sometimes enjoy people who assert opinions with a lot of flair and attitude -- the provocation can be useful, the pose can be amusing. But, deep inside, I take what they're putting forth as a suggestion, nothing more.

What would please me, not that anyone should care, is more of a sense of dialogue between the specialist/experts and the interested amateurs and potential fans. I wish there weren't so much hostility between the two groups, and (this may be more easily disagreed with) I think a great deal of the fault for the hostility lies with the experts. Laying down laws doesn't win them many friends, constantly advocating work that masses of people dislike isn't doing anyone any favors, and failing to admit that they (the experts) too might have something to learn simply isn't very winning. Why the experts insist on turning what they're selling into something that only the tiniest sliver of an audience might want flabbergasts me, and is something I'm always trying to puzzle out. My working theory: the experts like hanging out together, talking to each other, and reinforcing each other's sense of importance more than they like having to serve people they consider outsiders and inferiors. I'd find this harmless behavior unworth paying much attention to if only the arts didn't suffer from it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 17, 2002 4:26 PM

I would second Brian's recommendation of Gross and Levitt's 'Higher Superstition' (which I have just finished reading - it is a truly excellent book). Also of interest might be Sokal and Bricmont's 'Fashionable Nonsense' which extends from the infamous 'Transgressing the Boundaries' hoax in 'Social Texts'.

David Mercer: I think you give too much credence to the idea that scientific deities like Hawking and Einstein are unassailable. The reason that papers critical of orthodoxy are usually rejected is because they are rubbish, not because they challenge the status quo. Scientists rise to eminence because they are good, good in this instance meaning being right more often than not, and in interesting ways. The scalp of a Witten or a Pauling is a highly prized commodity - but all you need to do(!) to claim it is to prove them wrong (or, mor likely, extend their work to hitherto uncharted areas). It might have been the case many years ago that a young upstart would have been shunned had he tried to overthrow the orthodoxy, but scientific ideas have a curiously corrosive quality inasmuch as that which is 'correct' in science tends to become accepted quite independently of the individuals involved (had Einstein died at six of scarlet fever, we would still have relativity theory today). All the big beasts of science were upstarts once.

As for the objectivity of science: the fact that science as a process is a social construct is a truism. It is carried out by people. But this does not mean that science qua science is socially constructed or that its claims to model objective reality are unfounded.

Posted by: David Gillies on December 17, 2002 5:10 PM

Michael's great post has explained to me my own confusion about why I feel so insecure about encountering new art. I blame college. But, when you say, "I'm not trying to make the case that if I like something, that makes it art," can you explain then what *does* make something art, as opposed to trash or near-art?

Posted by: Tank Mommy on December 17, 2002 5:28 PM

Michael wrote: "Anyway, no matter how gray or smudgey the edges can be made, I still contend there are differences between the art way-of-knowing-and-proceeding, and the science way-of-knowing-and-proceeding."

If I may break into this lofty discussion with an Earthbound observation most mundane if on-point....

There's of course a *fundamental* difference between the art and science way of knowing-and-proceeding, and that difference is grounded in the clear fact that science (genuine science, that is) is always and essentially (and literally) a dis-covering of an underlying physical reality, while genuine art is always and essentially a synthetic (as in synthesis) creation of a new reality of the artist's own making. The former, once dis-covered and verified by experiment, is true unconditionally for all, and for all time; the latter, always conditioned by the voluntary acceptance of the artist's created world-view.

The ways of knowing-and-proceeding of art and science are, at bottom, fundamentally not comparable. In short, the old apples and oranges deal.

That is all.

As you were.


Posted by: acdouglas on December 17, 2002 8:25 PM

> While I agree with most of what's here, the view of science presented is a bit naive...I forget which famous person said that "science advances one funeral at a time."

> If your work threatens that of someone famous (an Einstein, a Hawking, etc.) you most likely will NOT make it past the 'peer review' process to being published, and hence receiving grants, fellowships and the like, no matter the truth of your work.

Excessive cynicism is just another form of naivety.

Papers which contradict the established wisdom, and go against the opinions of the "big boys", get published all the time in major scientific journals. I've done it myself. I've also reviewed papers by people who disagree with me publicly, and recommended them for publication.

Science is a messy, human endeavour. However, it does progress; and does so because its statements can be, and are, tested against the actual behaviour of nature. Art works in a very different way, and on this point the original posting was quite correct.

Posted by: Iain J Coleman on December 19, 2002 7:44 PM

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