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One Fundamental Question

Roger Malina

Jul 29, 1999

Re: One Fundamental Question

Norman White

Jul 30, 1999

Re[2]: One Fundamental Question

Roger Malina

Aug 1, 1999

Re[3]: One Fundamental Question

Bruce Gilchrist

Jul 31, 1999

Re: One Fundamental Question

David Peat

Jul 30, 1999

Re[2]: One Fundamental Question

Roger Malina

Jul 31, 1999

Re: One Fundamental Question

Inna Semetsky

Jul 31, 1999

Re: One Fundamental Question

Liliane Karnouk

Aug 1, 1999



Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 09:26:14 -0700 (PDT)
From: Roger Malina <>
Subject: One Fundamental Question

re the needs for a center- as we use more and more and more email communications- it makes the need for physical spaces for in depth discussions even more necessary- on the other hand there are many existing centers, artists colonies etc which could host such discussions ( a good example in the San Francisco area is the Djerassi Foundation- founded by Carl Djerassi of Syntex and the Pill fame which serves as an artists colony but also hosts events. Djerassi is now starting a second career as a novelist and theater author- he would be a good person for your network.

The Rockefeller Foundation are trying to convince the US National Academy of Science/NRC to do a Art/Science study.

One fundamental question:

Can you demonstrate that first rank researchers in the sciences and first rank artists are working on Art/Science convergence ?

Can you show examples of first rank work coming out of art/science convergence?

Or is it just the second rate in both fields that have time to do this?

They have seen lots of wish washy not very rigorous art/science discussions etc and want to be convinced that what is going on is not just the typical inter-disciplinary/transdisciplinary wishful thinking that has been doing the rounds for the last thirty years.

Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999 10:22:50 -0400 (EDT)
From: Norman White <>
Subject: Re: One Fundamental Question

> One fundamental question:
> Can you demonstrate that first rank researchers in
> the sciences and first rank artists are working on
> Art/Science convergence ?
> Can you show examples of first rank work coming
> out of art/science convergence?
> Or is it just the second rate in both fields that
> have time to do this?

I find there's a disturbing arrogance that lies at the heart of these questions. And an utter lack of understanding of the art-making process. One thing I never do is ask myself whether I'm a first-rate or second-rate artist or researcher. That is for others over time and space to ask. The only fundamental question I ask of myself is whether the work I chose to do really matters to me.. heart-wise, brain-wise.

As far as judging others, I see around me every flavour of mix between concept and realization. Some artists have brilliant concepts but are struggling mightily with carrying them off. Others have achieved a mastery of their chosen medium but have somehow lost sight of concept along the way. Even to say this is a gross simplification, for this interaction of eptitudes changes on a project-to- project, day-to-day basis!

Also it bothers me that the first question separates artists from researchers. For me, it is essential that artist and researcher are in spirit the same person. Else how are we to engage in that intimacy with our media whereby we can make eye-opening mistakes, or encounter anomalies which allow us to transcend our own intention?

> They have seen lots of wish washy not very rigorous
> art/science discussions etc and want to be convinced
> that what is going on is not just the typical
> inter-disciplinary/transdisciplinary wishful thinking that
> has been doing the rounds for the last thirty years.

What is this fixation on "rigorous"? The more doodlers, the more scribblers, the more the WHOLE of our society involves itself with the act of creation, the more appreciative of art we ALL become. Set our sights on anything less and we come to worship specialist, academic, tight-assed elitism.

Norman T. White --

Date: Sat, 31 Jul 1999 16:32:12 -0700 (PDT)
From: Roger Malina <>
Subject: Re[2]: One Fundamental Question

to respond in part to Norm White's reactions - and at the risk of digging myself in deeper (this is where email is hopeless , whereas face to face meetings allow for actual dialogic resolution...

- yup- I misspoke- as I too think of artists and scientists in the same part of parameter space, and designers and engineers in a related part of parameter space- so no- I didn't mean to separate artists and researchers in terms of approaches/ and the kinds of outcomes that are considered interesting/successful

re the imbedded "arrogance" in the discussion on "first rate" work- yeah- re-reading my email it smelled of that- but there are real issues here that need weeding out - e.g. both in science and art "originality" is something that is valued - although in different senses in art and science- yet one sees huge amount of time spent developing work that is "derivative" - for instance as new technologies/media get disseminated - work that was realised in a previous medium is re-realised as if this was really interesting- when in fact the issues/concepts/affects have been explored fully by an artist in previous work/media. One of the Leonardo co-editors is Bulat Galeyev in Kazan- likes to argue that his whole career he has been doing computer art without computers - and I agree with him-

and I find "second rate" work presented as original and exciting when in fact the artists (or scientist) is just unaware of previous work. One of my thought processes when I see computer art is to ponder whether the work really needed the use of a computer or not- if not- then - well I would rather have the painting or the photograph, rather than the computer or digital image. A recent editorial by the late John lansdown in Leonardo bemoans the fact that there is so little "computer art"- i.e. art that really could not have been made without the use of computers, exploits specificities of the new medium.

Re; rigour- well - its not any issue of fixation- but just getting tired of stuff presented as the real thing when its not. My father after editing manuscripts all day once came down to the dinner table and sighed "It was really interested working today, but unfortunately everything that I read that was new, was not true, and everything that I read that was true, was not new". Rigour includes not thinking that wishing something to be, makes it so. It includes attributing the sources of ideas to their creators, rather than presenting them as ones own. There is no shortage of "doodling and scribbling" in our societies.

What we do need more of is more science and more art that really speaks, responds, addresses our human condition- personal and group- today. To get ideas one needs many approaches- and i am always interested in the work of artists who "doodle" with new tools often developing a totally new understanding of what a device/technique really adds- artists to my knowledge have always been "early adopters"- beyond the examples of portrait painter Samuel Morse -better known maybe for the Morse code, there are many other examples where individuals who see themselves as driven by artistic goals have led to technical developments with wide applications. And engineers (eg Theremin) who doddled with their inventions for artistic purposes.

SO I guess I am not worry about any shortage of doodling and scribbling- but I am worried about the shortage of new ideas, meaningful developments- and not only do these require rigour to achieve goals, or outcomes, but also rigour in not putting forward the wishy washy or the second rate as worth spending a lot of time on.

I still feel a bit vulnerable to the concern about "first rate" being something that is often socially determined at a given time- and all societies ( of scientists, artists) are usually conservative and rarely view "change as your friend"- hence the problems original thinkers -thinking outside the box- like Bohm or Prigogine- have in getting the space to develop and present their ideas.

If possible- but this is not in email- I would remove the terms "first versus second rate" as it focuses on the wrong issues probably- but I would like to keep "rigour" in the vocabulary` however !!


Date: Sun, 1 Aug 1999
From: Bruce Gilchrist
Subject: Re[3]: One Fundamental Question

Roger Malina said:
> Re; rigour-
> .....
> There is no shortage of "doodling and scribbling" in our societies.

Perhaps we shouldn't seperate doodling and rigorous attitudes too much, making them mutually exclusive. Isn't there a finely balanced merging of the two at the core of this discussion (for both art and science); analogous to the paradox of the so called lucid dream state, where there is the experience of apparent-self-presence within a fictive-environment (dreamworld/doodle), co-existing with an objective, critical faculty (rigour).

Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999
From: David Peat <>
Subject: Re: One Fundamental Question

Dear Roger,

The questions you ask are important ones and keep going through my head. I often talked to Bohm about the 1950s in Princeton when he roomed at the home of the German writer Kahler - the house was filled with people like Paul Klee, Thomas Mann, Wolfgang Pauli, Einstein, Bronowski, etc. There was certainly a very active exchange of ideas but maybe that was simply a characteristic of educated Europeans who had fled Nazi Europe and assumed that any educated person would have a rounded appreciation of the arts and sciences.

You questions also remind me of the slur often made against people like Bohm, Prigogine, etc. That scientists only get interested in philosophy when they are too old for creative work! This was certainly not true of people like Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg and the like, reading philosophy and thinking about philosophical questions seemed very much part of doing science. Also Einstein, Heisenberg and others had a passionate interest in music. In his memoirs Heisenberg often recalls particular pieces of music - in some deep way the music connected with his thought, but not in any obvious art-science connection.

Anyway, let me think over your questions. My feeling is that it will not be possible to get some top mathematician, physicist or biologist to put his or her hand on heart and assert that their work has been inspired by looking at Cezanne or attending performance art. And when it comes to artists whose work is directly inspired by some mathematical equation, or finding some sculptural metaphor for a Strange Attractor then it tends to be very second rate work.

My feeling is that the true connection goes very much deeper. Maybe it lies in a feeling of fellowship, a sense that others are looking in similar directions, a sense of atmosphere or ambience.

Date: Sat, 31 Jul 1999
From: Roger Malina <>
Subject: Re[2]: One Fundamental Question


Yes- the pre-war intellectual community, and also as it emerged after the war- provoked-promoted contact between intellectuals- UNESCO was another example of the special situation that developed after the war

Re the other point- I am much less interested in the flow of ideas from art to science and vice versa (sources of inspiration) but whether there is a new development going on that will "integrate" in some way

i think the answer is yes- and the main driver for this is the new generation of artists that are scientifically and technically literate- and as a result can make active contributions to scientific and technical developments. There are a number of examples beginning to appear- some in places like the Xerox PARC or Interval artists and residence programs- but also at places like GMD in Bonn- that's on the technology end mostly. On the science end i guess one would point to some of the work going on at the Santa Fe Institute.

the hope is that this is not just another "inter-disciplinary" development- but that because artists, scientists and engineers are sharing tools again ( the computer)-that some shared methodologies may lead to new outcomes.

I don't see however any evidence for a new generation of scientists who are sufficiently literate on CONTEMPORARY arts and humanities. I sincerely think that the new developments are more likely to emerge from the artists rather than from the scientists.

I suspect that you know what I mean about inter-disciplinary venues attracting second rate thinkers.... i have been to too many creativity conferences that had no inkling of contemporary research on the brain, consciousness, AI, philosophy.

So yes- like you - i am hoping that the art/science/technology convergence discussion goes much deeper- but that means attracting the best minds in all fields !!


Date: Sat, 31 Jul 99 15:31:50 GMT
From: Inna Semetsky <>
Subject: Re: One Fundamental Question

Point well taken.

Art/science stuff has been used and abused. The duality corresponds to a way a thinking based on binary opposites and the logic of exclusion. Perhaps "art/science" requires a slightly more philosophical blanket? In this way the overused term will be avoided plus the real significance of ontology behind the term will be addressed.


Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 23:39:04 -0700
From: Liliane Karnouk <>
Subject: Re: One Fundamental Question

So much is said and the words can be infectious. I will try to be brief. I agree with Roger's conservative and qualitative evaluation of art and science. I want to expand. It seems that all great art and science accomplishments are achieved within conventions rigourously protected by forces vaguely defined by culture. Today's Western culture aim at keeping the two blocks , art and science conventions separate and distinct , in part because it is a necessary evil if one is to win the race of technology ( derived from science ) and marketing ( derived from art ) . But also because conventions tend to be stronger than its followers, who end up in a vicious circle, when they become trapped in the mistake of regarding art as derived from art , or science for science sake.

Assuming that this is the present condition of Western culture, fair enough, but what about the non Western ? Not only we from other cultures have to suffer the consequences of Western supremacy (and let us be clear the beast of colonialism is stronger than ever) but we are compelled to adopt the same attitude and force ourselves , in order to bear the burden of the legacy , into the mediocre position of being also the "deja vu" , the echo , what even lucid Roger Molina will not be able to define other than second rate , regardless of the fact that we know how offensive and incompatible it is with our own views. Hence , the impasse, paralysis and consequence. So ? I feel that we need to come up with the foundations of an alternative more flexible convention , for our own survival. Call it art-science or post-modernist or post-western , but all I can say is that I am not interested in art at the service of technology , but if this computer can be of help taking us forward or backward , let it be the silent horseman carrying my words. Thanks Kerry Gordon for helping me expand the discourse in areas which interest me !

Liliane Karnouk

Date: Sun, 1 Aug 1999 20:17:02 +0100
From: Martin Kemp, University of Oxford <>
Subject: Re: One Fundamental Question

I've read through the lively debate engendered by your initiative. Even the disagreements show that your correspondents believe the issues matter.

As you will know already by now, I'm happy in principle to participate, but constrained by the administrative nonsense that Oxford imposes unrelentingly - even in 'vacations'. Pari sounds seductive.

3 thoughts for the moment:

1) The whole business of art AND science is cast in terms of 'Art' and 'Science' as defined in the 19thC and above all by 20th modernisms in the Western tradition. Even within the history of this tradition, the modern filter is hugely distorting. For other cultures it is even more problematic.

2) the question of 'influence' - in whichever direction - misses what to me is the most fundamental point, and that is the need to look deeper at the preceptual, cognitive, analytical and imaginative process that underlie art and science in terms of the equipment with which humans have been endowed. I've tried to encapsulate this in my term 'structural intuitions' - as used in my 'Nature' articles, and as the title of the book of the collected articles to be published next year by Oxford UP. Influence may be a symptom but it's not really the central thing.

3) RM's questions of quality and rigour are real ones for me. The answer seems more positive if we get away from the idea of searching for artists who are influenced by science and somehow 'illustrate' it. The contemporary artists in my 'Nature' pieces are all in the 'structural intuition' business in diverse ways. Any group that includes Jim Turrell, Andy Goldsworthy, Mario Merz and David Hockney is definitively not condemned to be second-rate.

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