Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Seeing Things Differently and Building Bridges

The major goal of my sabbatical is to build bridges between the sciences and humanities. The role of art as an interpretation of scientific facts, something I have explored deeply in these pages, is getting a lot of attention these days from a number of directions. I think there's still so much to be done. Art can serve science and science can serve art, but these seem to be less philosophical and more practical aspects. Although I'm not a philosopher (far from it) my focus seems to be headed more in the direction of philosophical (or perhaps anthropological or maybe cognitive) connections between art and science. For me, the most interesting question is how processes of doing art and doing science are similar. Do people who see things differently act differently? Do they approach some things differently but others the same? How can they work toward some shared goal?

Writing on the morning after the election, I am exhilarated and buoyed by the fact that the American people have seen through the lies promulgated by a political entity that pandered to the so-called "tea party." So much of the practice of the Republican Congress over these past four years has been simply to block Obama, acting as if there were not shared goals that the country needs to meet. There is no question that people see things differently from one another politically but isn't there some common ground? In a large, complex society there has to be room within political communities for so much variation in thought and practice. In the broadest sense, people of all convictions need to be tolerated, at the very least. In some ways this sounds libertarian, which is very far from the way I approach things. But as my friend Saul Tannenbaum has written, "right libertarianism wraps around to left direct action." Incredibly, the Republican right (represented by Romney and others who might have been considered the Republican "mainstream") has shot itself in the foot with recent comments on a whole range of topics; women, rape, climate, the economy, immigration, etc. Demonizing any group is a recipe for disaster.

So how does this connect to art and science? Besides for the fact that both disciplines would have risked becoming endangered species in the Brave New World of Romney/Ryan, I think both disciplines have much to learn from one another. Creativity, spontaneity, and aesthetic are wonderful aspects of art, but they are not restricted to the artist's world. Analysis, critical thinking, and precision are not the sole domain of the sciences.

My friend Renato Riccioni uses his background in theater to search for aesthetic pathways in his sculpture practice.
As a trained scientist who does art for a living (that is, to live), I dig and delve into all my recesses to find solutions to problems of form, composition, and balance. Our common goal is to create. And in the same way, the common goal of our newly reconstructed legislature is to find a way to make this a fairer, more balanced, and more functional society. Here's hoping that we can create this monumental work for human good together.

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