Is There a Distinction between Art and Science?
September 15, 2009
In order to better understand the role of biology in society, I would like to consider the relationship between science and other cultural objects. Science and art are often perceived as opposing cultural objects. These two disciplines are only superficially disparate. At the core, they share a common moral and place in society. The readings below are intended to help reveal the similarity between art and science by looking at examples of their overlap. The first article is supposed to address how artist make use of recent scientific advances in their work. The second reading addresses the issues that arise when art and science are using the same techniques. The third reading explores art as an emergent property of scientific experiments. Enjoy!
Some interesting quotes and images from the readings:
“The doctors, Stelarc said, were a little dubious that this was art. “They were overheard discussing, though, that perhaps they were really the artists and my body was just the canvas!” he said in an e-mail message.”
“Traditionally, animal breeding has been a multi-generational selection process that has sought to create pure breeds with standard form and structure, often to serve a specific performative function. As it moved from rural milieus to urban environments, breeding de-emphasized selection for behavioral attributes but continued to be driven by a notion of aesthetics anchored on visual traits and on morphological principles. Transgenic art, by contrast, offers a concept of aesthetics that emphasizes the social rather than the formal aspects of life and biodiversity, that challenges notions of genetic purity, that incorporates precise work at the genomic level, and that reveals the fluidity of the concept of species in an ever increasingly transgenic social context.”
“Transgenic art is not about the crafting of genetic objets d'art, either inert or imbued with vitality.”
“Rather than accepting the move from the complexity of life processes to genetics, transgenic art gives emphasis to the social existence of organisms, and thus highlights the evolutionary continuum of physiological and behavioral characteristics between the species. The mystery and beauty of life is as great as ever when we realize our close biological kinship with other species and when we understand that from a limited set of genetic bases life has evolved on Earth with organisms as diverse as bacteria, plants, insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals.”
“Above all, who is in a position to reflect on these questions, or rather, what disciplines have the tools to sort out these issues? Do we call on the artists or the philosophers, the anthropologists or the art historians, or do we turn to the proponents of hybrid formations like "cultural studies?" Do we rely on the genetic engineers and computer hackers to reflect on the ethical and political meaning of their work? Or do we turn to the new field called "bioethics," a profession that requires fewer credentials than we expect from a hairdresser, and which is in danger of becoming part of the publicity apparatus of the corporations whose behavior they are supposed to monitor—or as in the case of George W. Bush's Presidential Council on Bioethics, a front for the reassertion of the most traditional Christian pieties and phobias about the reproductive process?”
"Biocybernetics," then, refers not only to the field of control and communication, but to that which eludes control and refuses to communicate. In other words, I am questioning the notion that our time is adequately described as the "age of information," the "digital age," or the age of the computer, and suggesting a more complex and conflicted model, envisioning all these models of calculation and control as interlocked in a struggle with new forms of incalculability and uncontrollability, from computer viruses to terrorism.”
“Internet artists such as Lisa Jevbratt take quite seriously the metaphor of the Internet as a living organism.”
“Fused here in a single gestalt are the inseparable but contrary twins of biotechnology, constant innovation and constant obsolescence, the creation and extinction of life, reproductive cloning and the annihilation of a species.”
“My own view is that the present is, in a very real sense, even more remote from our understanding, and that we need a
"paleontology of the present," a rethinking of our condition from the perspective of deep time, in order to produce a synthesis of the arts and sciences adequate to the challenges we face.”
“Still another task is the re-articulation of what we mean by the human, by humanism, and the humanities, an inquiry in which all the things we have learned about "identity" and identity politics in the postmodern era would be applied to the ultimate question of species identity. Finally, there would be the question of the image, and the Imaginary, itself. If we are indeed living in a time of the plague of fantasies, perhaps the best cure that artists can offer is to unleash the images, in order to see where they lead us, how they go before us. A certain tactical irresponsibility with images might be just the right sort of homeopathic medicine for what plagues us.”