Sunday, January 31, 2010

Art Deserves Funding, But NOT Because It Is Like Science

I'm often irritated by other fields in trying to either coattail onto physics, or making rather dubious comparison to it. Worse still, some time someone will try to justify the funding of something by bad-mouthing science.

In this opinion article, the author is arguing why funding for the arts should not be abandoned even during this tough economic times. OK, fine. But then, one of the reasons given why goes a bit awry when a comparison between arts and science is made.

While the arts and science seem like opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum, they share a common purpose: discovery. Science is largely concerned with discovering the physical world around us. The arts are concerned with discovering ourselves, through which we discover each other. Discovery starts the process. It comes before. Discovering ourselves and discovering each other is the unifying force in the birth of community long before there are any discussions about budgets or programs or services. The community supports education and infrastructure, but it is the arts that foster community.

I am no scientist, but what little I know of quantum physics suggests that the interaction of the observer with the observed has a much greater influence than we had ever anticipated. It may even be that the observed does not exist until the observer is there to observe it. This is the essence of the arts, through which we confirm our own experience – our own existence. We observe each other the same way. Through the arts, we all enter the world – together.

Let's look at this argument closely, shall we?

I will argue that the process of "self-discovery" through art is NOT UNIQUE, and can be done by many different ways. One can have self-discovery by meditation, by seclusion in a cave somewhere if one prefers, or even by doing physics! Trust me, I've done plenty of self-discovery when I was struggling while doing a Jackson's E&M homework question at 3:00 am! One does not need to look at a Picasso, or listen to a Rachmaninoff piece, to have "self-discovery". On the other hand, the discovery done in science IS unique! One does not discover superconductivity, fractional quantum hall effect, the top quark, etc. by doing other things not science. Even when things are discovered by accident, the validity or it, and the full understanding of it, can only be done through science and nothing else.

So, even IF we grant the idea that art can also produce "discovery" via this thing call "self-discovery", the comparison to science falls short. The nature of the discovery being argued for in this article is not confined to just art. If this is the best that one can come up with, then it has made the argument to fund the arts even weaker, since one can easily do one's "self-discovery" through cheaper, alternative means. Art needs to find its own unique reasons so that one would want to fund it for what it is, not for what it is similar to with other fields. Make it stand on its own, not on the crutches of others.



Anonymous said...

Some truth there but it's important to remember any rigid boundaries and barriers constructed between art and science are our own, not natures.
If we consider a discipline such as Architecture, art and science aren't just 'married' they're simply different views of the same reality. Much of Architecture is engineering, environmental science, sound, light, thermal control, surveying, geometry, materials science etc etc. But no good architect can successfully apply these except through a deep seated philosophy of art and the aesthetic. Nature didn't impose a set of different school coricula. Science can be beautiful and art rationalised. Seeing them as fundamentally opposing philosphies is wrong.

ZapperZ said...

But the problem in your assessment here is that science is not considered to be valid just because it is "beautiful", where as art is "validated" by that! A physics formalism can gain as much beauty as it wants, but if it isn't backed by any empirical evidence, it is a useless piece of mathematics.


Canticle said...

Very good point, there's too much 'Alice in Wonderland' math with no empiricle base. But not a problem, symmetry and indeed the simple physical reality of nature, is the most beautiful thing we can experience! Art only represents and tries to tap that.
A good example of how impoverished the division of math and art leaves us is bridge design. 'Ingeniours' became Engineers, became more and more just mathematicians. In recent years all the most beautiful bridges in the world have been designed by Architects! Considering each side seperately is to lose touch with nature!