Science and Art: Differing Objectives for Abstract Data Analysis

Joe Smoke

I am currently writing an essay for a university art gallery exhibition catalog about how the early nineteenth-century invention of photography marked a change in art and spiritual consciousness; and thus dwelling on the postindustrial trajectories of art and science. I have so many extra notions that I created this separate cloud of thought. Apologies if this musing seems too general. I present it here to excite dialogue and receive feedback through the GIA Reader.

Scientists and artists — the greatest of both types are methodical thinkers; but these occupations don’t have a common purpose. In fact, art and science have different conceptual, influential, educational, methodological, operational, and philosophical purposes; so why do we persist in imagining that mixing artists and scientists will generate “heightened” innovation? I will endeavor to outline briefly how and why art and science have different roles in society, even though both fields play foundational roles in developing human awareness.

Science seeks answers, whereas art seeks questions. Both inquiries originate with the concept that things are wrong or unresolved. But scientists scrutinize, and artists synthesize. Artists accept or embrace unobvious outcomes. Scientists want to make conclusions. Scientists do not try to mix or interrelate problems. They want to prove or disprove a strategically focused question. Artists are happy if their queries lead to other queries. In this respect, the two fields share a common interest in “going beyond the obvious”; but in the end, one mystery is about empiricism and the other is about consciousness. Scientists hope to land on solutions. Artists hope to excite speculations.

Greater divergences originate from paradigm difference. Artists complain about the lack of funding for their “research,” while scientists are squeezed out or bought out from the “development” (or further development) of their ideas. Industrial corporations buy or copy scientific advancements, and entertainment corporations buy or copy artistic concepts for monetary gain. Governments use scientific investments to establish or maintain political power, but they rarely employ art investments for similar or obvious influence. In the end, scientists derive some money from patents. Artists get some residual income from copyrights.

A key feature of the art-science duality is its crucible lesson for teachers: we must try to educate students about both ways of seeking answers, because the manner of seeking dictates the outcome. The method of exploration dictates whether a thinker is working in a creative or logical fashion.

Art and science workers gain from failure in opposing ways. Artists do not find public failure pleasurable. They try to fail offstage or in the studio. Artists hope that when their innovations are presented they have openness, flexible interpretation, and something for everyone. Scientists see the end point of failure as “disproving something.” Whether proving or disproving a hypothesis, scientists make their work public. The realm of art is win-win for everyone. The realm of science is competitive by speed and accuracy. For these reasons scientists work methodically to achieve, and artists delve methodically to reveal.

In contemplating these theoretical and practical differences, I am trying to justify continued support of crossover projects that promise increased benefit through teaming scientists and artists. The historical “collaborations” I have recounted through library and Internet research are at best parallel tracks. Most are just examples of scientists and artists sharing interests. Few are partnerships (e.g., those that seek to “map [i.e. envision] something invisible” like the workings of the human brain), and hardly any are functional collaborations. Hence, it seems that the united philanthropic sector is better off directing resources to other cross-sector collaborations wherein processes and objectives are more aligned: for example, arts and public safety, arts and mental health, science and poverty, or science and nutrition.

Likewise, I remain greatly indifferent to the idea that artists drive culture as much as scientists. While I respect that both perceptions and tools are needed for “adaptation,” when forced to make a choice toward achieving success, I would always choose new tools. The arts and artists have my greatest respect for expressing values. Science and scientists get my greatest honors for shifting the future. Synthesis is a great gift; however, history indicates that discovery is a more powerful contribution. Indeed, these manners of influence overlap. But I also see that character defines reputation, which becomes collective temperament; so running closest to engendering disagreement on this point of comparison I will simply end this paragraph with a question: Don’t you find that the most successful artists are “assured” personalities (divas), whereas the most successful scientists are “humble” types (nerds)? Sorry, ouch.

Quickly-cleverly back to the topic of education, to duck incoming virtual tomatoes and end with some unifying remarks. If you agree with my general observations, then we can agree that art and science are different soul foods for youth and adults. We need to practice and enjoy both types of exploration (especially if I am correct about how they shape personality and/or behavior). But until and unless someone can provide me with convincing project examples and shared impacts from modern times, I recommend that grantmakers not spend too much energy or money in getting professional scientists and artists together as project partners. They have opposing objectives.

The human brain is an amazing “expectation machine.” But it also has functioning properties that get short-circuited when they are used together. I deduce that focused research results in conclusions (positive and negative), whereas focused inquiry results in story bonding (of unlimited colors). Satisfaction is found in both scientific and artistic realms, through repetition or practice. Both types of mind concentration develop talent and appreciation. Yet despite their complementary social responsiveness, ultimately science and art have different functions.