Culture 12 min read

How Art and Science Intersect

Ball LunLa |

Ball LunLa |

 “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science,” -Albert Einstein.

Practically speaking, art is a product of expression. In the abstract, art is often practiced either to make sense of our reality or to create a manifestation of the consciousness of the artist itself. Science, on the other hand, is an exploration of the world around us in an effort to find universal, indisputable truths.

In short, art is often introspective while science is extrospective. You might say art is used to understand the consciousness while science is used to understand the external reality.

Obviously, “what is art?” is a much more controversial question than “what is science?”. Here, we’re working with a general definition. If you disagree or think your concept of art would change our arguments, please, share your ideas with us.

Can truth and beauty mix? Is it possible for a work of science to be a work of art, or vice-versa? Above all, what is the connection between art and science? Where does one draw the line? Is there even a line?

Demolishing the Wall Between the “Two Cultures”

In a lecture delivered on May 7th, 1959, at the Senate House in Cambridge, Charles Percy Snow argued that science and the humanities were evolving into two distinct cultures.

Snow was a novelist and physical chemist that dabbled in both art and science. He saw this separation as a major obstacle to the progression of human society.

He was concerned with scientists who shy away from reading literature and artists who ignore the scientific method. If this became the norm, Snow saw us losing bridges that help these “two cultures” converge. Snow thought that the collective human intellect would grow if these bridges survived.

This was the relationship between art and science as pictured by Snow almost 60 years ago.

Nowadays, thanks to the development of specialized institutions, organizations, and departments, art and science are more separate than ever. Think of an entomologist and a performance artist–is there anything that links these two individuals at all?

It could be argued that this arbitrary dichotomy between art and science seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon.

In the past, during major periods of enlightenment, scientific revolutions have often been accompanied by an artistic boom.

This is well exemplified by the Renaissance that rebooted Europe after a long dark, violent, and unproductive spell.

Although primarily animated and driven by a new scientific spirit, the period of the Renaissance was also a high period for the arts.

These two schools were so deeply interlinked at the time that they could even be personified into one individual. There is no other figure that captures the Renaissance universalist spirit quite like Leonardo da Vinci as a mathematician, a painter, and an inventor all at the same time.

However, this is only one perspective of the argument. It is also important to look at why these artistic and scientific movements began.

Does an advancement in science cause a development in art? Or does creative expression lead to scientific experimentation?

Often, these movements are concurrent because the reasons behind them are the same. Economic prosperity, ideological freedom, a large cultural exchange of ideas, materials, and skills development have each contributed to artistic and scientific expression.

If one takes a look at most if not all ancient civilizations, major artistic and cultural landmarks were tied to a practical purpose.

Look at the Great Pyramids. A great work of engineering for sure, but the artistic beauty is undeniable.

Furthermore, their creation, along with similar marvels such as the Acropolis, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Forbidden City, Coliseum, Jetavanaramaya, Chichen Itza, or even the Empire State Building is almost always tied with economic prosperity and national pride, power, and expression.

Art and science, in other words, are first linked by their expression of human development, prosperity, and productivity.

Before silicon started running through the Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area was a hotbed of artistic expression. There is evidence to suggest that this is a result of the specialization trend that arose with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As workers developed from general laborers into employees with specific tasks, there arose more time and energy for individuals to improve and develop advancements in the most niche areas of science and industry.

Specialization made it possible to cope with an ever-growing body of knowledge, to efficiently organize the various efforts of the industry, to standardize a field, and to improve and develop society and the economy as a whole.

For scientists, a narrower field of study gives them the opportunity to dive deeper into their investigations. It means that they can now move from a discipline to a field and then into a subfield where they can spend time and effort on an issue that would have never been possible before.

This overspecialization that seeks to elevate science, in addition to being self-detrimental, has often widened the schism between art and science. As an individual or field becomes ever more focused on one idea or investigation, every other issue is thrown to the curb.

However, in the era of the gestating Industry 4.0, it is now more necessary than ever for scientific experimentation and creative expression to cooperate. This marriage will be necessary in order to navigate the needs, demands, and desires of the ever-growing global population.

The Long-Standing Dialogue Between Arts and Sciences May be Set to Change

Photography, which was invented in the first half of the 19th century, was born from the marriage of science and the visual arts. Even though, we seem to be still unsure how to categorize photography: is it an art or a science?

The camera began as a scientific device with its first users being botanists and archeologists. However, it did not take long for it to evolve into an artistic tool as artists saw its great potential for expression, discovery, and introspection.

That doesn’t mean that photography hasn’t had its detractors. Many people, especially ladies of the time, didn’t like the “faithful” way it rendered reality compared to the often flattering painted portraits of tradition.

Regardless of the critics, if technology has elevated art, art has also managed to do the same for science.

John Gould (1804–1881) helped identify and paint Darwin’s finches, which would later be one of the most central arguments in his theory of evolution.

A case could be made that the phenomenal success of Apple Inc. is attributed in part to its founder’s artistic spirit. Steve Jobs was known to approach the production of Apple devices artistically and considered a computer as a work of art.

The relationship between art and science has existed for a long time. Now, with the ongoing digital revolution, it has gained a much-needed boost.

Digitization is speeding up the convergence between art and technology and provides a conducive environment for the combination of the two fields.

At the crossroads between science and art, new forms of expression and discovery are appearing at every turn. These new developments are leveraging the combined power of the rigorous scientific approach with the subjectivity and experimentalism of creative arts.

The “digital arts” like CGI, animation, and virtual sculpture use digital technology as a tool in the creative process.

Art Uses Lies to Reveal the Truth

Artistic creations are the result of the artist’s subjective expression. However, this expression is also dependent on the spectator’s own subjective taste.

In other words, does art have any pretense to the truth? Is art inherently deceptive? Picasso once said that “art is a lie, but it is a lie by which we know the truth.”

In the contemporary world, art is more associated with emotions and impressions than reason or reality. It only takes a quick glimpse at Van Gogh’s sunflowers or Picasso’s entire life’s work to realize that reality has had no place in art for well over a century.

Reality gets even more twisted in surrealist works. You’d be forgiven if you think that the rendition of reality in Dali’s “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach can’t be further from the truth

But, as with most works of art, there’s far more to it than meets the eye.

The painting’s relationship to the real-world truth seems tenuous. Yet, that doesn’t mean there’s no reality to it, visually-speaking.

At first look, you see the mysterious face embedded in a dish-like object with what looks like pears and a beach setting. But upon closer inspection, other things such as people and scenery start to unfold.

Dali is augmenting reality in his own way, with multi-layered “real” images that overlap to evoke the fleeting nature of reality in the world.

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As with many artists of the contemporary era, realism was no longer an issue for Dali. Neither was it for the art itself. The question that Dali is trying to raise is a common one: what is art? What form of reality does this art belong in?

It is a question of perception. It’s an attempt to find the place of the consciousness within the physical sphere. This consideration illuminates how our interpretation of reality may be far from the truth.

This, in a sense, is one of the central beliefs of our own modern scientific viewpoint. Since Einstein, one of the main tenets of science has been that our reality is not constant. Everything we previously assumed as fact is now questionable, and we can take nothing for granted as true.

Although science and art began by traveling in separate directions, it seems as though they have come to the same conclusion.

That is: we really don’t have much of an idea about anything.

Speaking of realism, or the lack thereof, there are few things that can be more “real” than raw digital data. Figures and stats are facts and truths that depict reality as is, or at least how we see it.

Beyond businesses, IoT, and other mercantile applications, Big Data is also providing a canvas for digital artists.

Data visualization is a new art form where data is a tool that enables us to see the invisible side of digital reality. This is not only for pure artistic value, but it can also be implemented in scientific applications. As with photography, the line between science and art relies entirely on the implementation of the tool.

Art and Science: Reciprocal Role-Playing

Admittedly, art and science take two different highways. Yet, they often go side by side in the same direction. What’s more, there are connector paths that are already established between them.

Science and art can complement each other not on the basis of their similarities but rather on their differences, which allows for an inventive dialogue.

Linked by their end goal, that of the search for an understanding of the world and of life, scientists in their labs and artists in their studios can use their own specificities to reciprocally demonstrate the ethos of the other.

A scientist-artist, Zachary Copfer, combines a photographic process with biological practices to create unusual pieces of art.

The technique of “Bacteriography” is similar to the darkroom process in photography. However, it uses ultraviolet rays and a colony of living bacteria in a petri dish.

Copfer, who created amazing portraits of historical science and art figures, is not sure whether he’s a “microbiologist masquerading as an artist. Or am I an artist masquerading as a microbiologist.”

The Materials Research Society, an organization that works for interdisciplinary dialogue between scientific societies, understands the artistic lining of science.

For about a decade, MRS has been holding the “Science as Art” challenge twice a year. At this event, scientists showcase their materials, such as nanoparticles and crystals, as stunning image artworks.

Falling between the two fields of art and science, art therapy is a discipline of the human sciences. It extends the field of psychotherapy by adding art as a tool in the healing process.

Art Therapy” brings together several artistic practices (such as painting, dance, photography, etc.) which are used for therapeutic purposes along with scientific theories of psychology.

In all, the border between art and science has always been blurred. Although the development of specialization and the institutionalization of these fields has led to a minor separation in some areas of how art and science interact, it has not severed the ties completely.

In fact, it could be said that the links between science and art are closer than ever. Both studies are attempting to understand the universe either through introspective contemplation or through experimentation and study.

In a world that is only increasing in the speed at which society and, in turn, our reality is changing, science and art need to work together more than ever. Together, they can improve and develop the collective human consciousness.

Do you think of any other overlapping areas where science and art meet or other ways the two can enrich each other?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comments (3)
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  1. Profile Image
    Arturo Riobo February 05 at 8:45 pm GMT

    Share your thoughts… (they say)
    Well… my thoughts are very simple. I will give it a try. Maybe somebody on the internet will answer on this post.
    Title: How art and science intersect.
    To make matters short: I (39 y.o) live in Switzerland. In my parents home there is a living room table. The table’s material consists out of granite. This granite perhaps existed for eons underground before it was brought to the surface and processed.
    Now here comes the mind-blowing part:
    Please explain how on this very table’s granite surface, the structure resembles the Matterhorn. It is as if you took today in 2023 a picture of the mountain countryside and if you were to compare the picture and the granite table (fragment) next to each other, the picture and the table’s surface would result in an (almost) one to one copy of the landscape. With the main difference that the table is probably millions of years old as opposed to the picture taken today.
    I believe it is something that would not only blow a scientist’s mind, but rather rip it in half and scatter its pieces all over the place.
    My (deeper) thoughts: Is humanity repeating the same mistakes? Maybe.
    Are we “alone” in this universe? Certainly not.
    What I know: There is an ubitiquous universal connectivity of all existing and non existing matter. (Because existence in a human mind is restricted only to the known.) – This is the very cutting path where Art separates itself from science and yet both are inclusive and perhaps explainable in the future.
    (Sorry for my poor English)

  2. Profile Image
    Jazmin Saldana October 30 at 3:04 pm GMT

    love the detail you put in it this is a peace of art itself.

  3. Casey Vogler February 23 at 2:53 pm GMT

    Speculative Fiction is frequently an overlap of art and science. Science fiction is by definition.
    In Ancient Egypt art, science, religion and culture were so interconnected as to be indistinguishable. Check out Serpent in the Sky.

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