Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Should art respond to science?

There's an interesting discussion happening at YASMIN. Below is the original post and some of the more compelling comments:



Here is a very very negative review of Ryoji's Ikeda's art installation resulting from his cern residency


Should art respond to science? On this evidence, the answer is simple: no way
Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda's installation Supersymmetry is inspired by his residency at Cern - but signifies little more than that physics is weird. Isn't it time we stopped expecting artists to understand the complexities of science?


this is very much along the lines of my colleague Jean Marc Levy-Lebond's book 'Science is not art' where he attacks much of the mystification of art science practice

the review ends with:

Art <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/art> and science, we feel, should have something to say to each other. But perhaps they speak different languages after all. I don't speak the language of science too well, either, but I do know one thing: it is concerned with the wonder of nature. There is a depressing lack of wonder in this technically sophisticated but intellectually and emotionally empty art.

would be interested in Yasminer reactions: has anyone seen the work ?

roger malina

Yasmin_discussions mailing list

Yasmin URL: http://www.media.uoa.gr/yasmin


Dear Roger & Fellow Yasminers,

One of the crucial differences between art and science is that art represents and expresses the views of the artist. Art also involves a viewer or receiver. As Duchamp used to say, the viewer completes the work of art. But this isn’t merely Duchamp’s opinion: this is a fundamental proposition of symbolic interactionism as a method in the social sciences, and this is the core understanding of hermeneutics. For a deeper discussion of these issues, I have posted Herbert Blumer’s concise, elegant discussion of the methodological perspective of symbolic interaction in the teaching documents section of my Academia page at URL:


The clarity and precision of the natural sciences arises from the fact that the equations and propositions of natural science reflect and represent a world that should be the same to all viewers. While there are often differences of opinion about the truth, correctness, or value of what any one scientist or research team may represent about the physical world, there are also reasonably common standards that permit us to reach a common view over time.

One of Albert Einstein’s great papers of 1905 was his paper on Brownian motion. He published this at a time when no one was yet able to physically see an atom. Many scientists doubted the physical reality of atomic theory — and this included a great many scientists who accepted the hypothetical use of atomic theory for heuristic or didactic purposes while doubting the physical reality of atomism.

Einstein’s paper, “On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in Liquids at Rest Required by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat”
examined several well-known physical and chemical facts, drawing together well established evidence to demonstrate the physical reality of atoms. As a result, many scientists who had been skeptical about the reality of atoms became convinced that atoms were, in fact, real. You can read the paper (in Satchel 1998: 71-98) for yourself on my Academia page at URL:


The key issue between these two kinds of discussions is the difference between the ways in which we can understand human beings, how they think, how they behave, and what their behaviour means — including those forms of human behaviour that include speech acts, and the artefacts of behaviour in the form of written texts and works of art.

Not only do human actions change over time, but the meanings of human actions change over time. What’s more, the understanding of human actions, human artefacts, and their meaning undergo translation by everyone who hears, sees, or participates in any action.

An atom of carbon will be the same as any other atom of carbon in the universe. Gravitation is the same force wherever we can look and wherever we can measure it. Certain predictable factors account for measurable differences — different isotopes of any element, differences in the strength of gravity on the surface of a large planet as against the force of gravity in space outside the pantry atmosphere.

In contrast, my idea of a good beer may differ to the ideas of those five people at the table next to me. I’ll order a bottle of India Pale Ale from the case and not the refrigerator while the next table has five frosty glasses of house lager on tap. Someone may enjoy Aaron Copland’s film scores while someone else might prefer Danny Elfman’s work, and yet another person might enjoy them equally. One viewer may love Ryoji Ikeda’s work and another may not. I am puzzled about the multimillion dollar sums that Jeff Koons’s work take at auction when someone can buy a beautiful print by Dieter Roth or a painting by Dick Higgins for a 5-figure sum.

It is for this reason that I read Jonathan Jones’s review of Ryoji Ikeda’s Supersymmetry installation without too much feeling either way. The artist responded to scientific ideas, but Ikeda’s installation is art and not science. It is very much the same thing as a musician composing works to reflect a sense of what early astronomers called “the music of the spheres.” Jones’s review tells me what Jones thinks — it doesn’t tell me what I think.

I haven’t seen the installation for myself, so I have no idea about it from first-hand experience. I did read the review, but the review doesn’t seem any more harsh than other kinds of reviews. If you want to read some truly withering criticism, take a look at Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time. I suppose that a similar collection may exist for visual art, but I haven’t seen it. There are two interesting books of rejection letter from publishers and others, however. One is Bill Shapiro’s Other People's Rejection Letters: Relationship Enders, Career Killers, and 150 Other Letters You'll Be Glad You Didn't Receive. The other is Rotten Rejections: The Letters That Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent by Andre Bernard.

Duchamp used to say “posterity will be the judge.” We’ll eventually find out whether Ikeda’s work or Jones’s opinion prevails.



Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/she-ji-the-journal-of-design-economics-and-innovation/

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia


Dear Roger,

A very interesting set of questions to arise at this point in time of intense mutual admiration between art and science and lack of responsible criticism in the arts and as science falls prey to conservative doubting, at least in States, and what I would argue is an over determination from technology sectors in education.

Perhaps it's not so much that artists should "understand" or take a deeply creative interest in mimicking science in their practices, but that both can learn different sets of questions and directions for research from each other and that deep critique both positive and negative is needed in both fields. We have enough problems to solve on this planet!

I had a chat with Erik Davis after a presentation he did about psychedelia in which he screened early CIA scientific experiments with LSD - controlled in a white office, with clock, with men in ties. If this is "objectivity" about the type of mystical experience possible on psilocybin then scientists have missed something crucial about aesthetics and sensual pleasure in affecting mind-alteration. He also talked about a recent study done at Johns Hopkins where it was determined that there was some kind of universally-had mystical experience. Presumably this more recent study used control environments more conducive to tripping than the CIA did in the sixties.

My point being that Science could gain important insights into how it is posing questions and proving its ideas from artists and artists would do well not to treat their own practices as if Art were for producing results that need to be proved--what has seemed a creeping concern in both criticism and practice and a peculiar (funding driven?) demand on artists in the last decade.

Molly Hankwitz, PhD
Independent scholar, curator, editor
Bivoulab "scientist"


Gaston Bachelard makes the point that "bad science can produce good art."
His books reveal how what was once taken to be scientific fact can become a
poetics that retains a psychological truth even when it can no longer claim
any scientific legitimacy. Ordinary language still carries along the
imagery of how we used to imagine the word--and ideas we no longer accept
as scientific may still condition our experience of the world.

I have only seen Ikeda's work in online videos, so it is particularly
difficult to know how to react to it. I do use other works of his in class
as examples both of simplicity of means and large scale immersive
environments. I read the review some time ago, and found it irritating--the
sort of "let's be sure you know my opinion" writing that for me is the
opposite of what I imagine good art criticism should be. Rather that
offering readers analysis that would allow the reader to form her own
understanding Ikeda's work, the critic decides what is good and what is
bad. But that's the pattern of most newspaper criticism for you.

On the other hand, I think that there is a point to be made about artists
learning the language of science in ways that go beyond the facile.
Complexity and chaos theory have been particularly misconstrued--consider
the innumerable times "the butterfly effect" is dropped into conversation.
There is a tendency of artists to skim the surface, pluck a few metaphors,
and consider that their work is done.


-- Paul


Dear Ken and Fellow Yasminers

Of course the letters that publishers wish they had never sent is a good way to view Jones' review.

I've been reading Susan Sontag's essay on Camp and that's the sort of writing that we are looking for - sensitive and evocative responses to the sorts of work that we are interested in and involved with. Writing that draws out the sensibilities of the work and provides us with a frame of reference for understanding.

But remember that Jones' review might have prompted more people to visit the installation, more people to have arguments about the relationship between art and science and more people to appreciate Ikeda's art. Sometimes you have to slag something off to get people to pay attention to it.

But the world is not only the Turner Prize, any news is good news, no such things as bad publicity.

We actually need good critical writing to explore what the work means to the audience (bearing in mind that as Ken so rightly highlights there is no direct connection between the artist's intention and the audiences' reception of the work). The critic is the audiences' voice, the way the artist hears back. I'm not meaning to simplify the critic or to remove the power relations, the connection between critic and collector, etc. But we know we need high quality criticism and we know that we need it more than ever now.

For what its worth my cues for writing good criticism are Helen Molesworth, Susan Sontag and Grant Kester.



For those interested in some further discussion of this article by
Jones, you can see a conversation in e-flux from April here:

David Harris
UCSC Digital Arts and New Media

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