Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] Why does art-science matter?

Dear Stephen,

The problem is that few critics know anything about the history of science, little about the deep history of art, and nothing about the sociology of knowledge in its historical frame. As a result, they are not aware that art and science have been on close terms at many times in history, though not at all times.

Your point is well taken about Pollock, Greenberg, and Rosenberg. There is even more to that — it suited the United States government to promote abstract expressionism as part of the cultural initiatives of the early post-war era. America massive budgetary resources available for any purpose that would project global leadership. This is the kind of thing that would today be called "soft power." If you read Greenberg's prose of the time, he was essentially claiming that New York had replaced Paris as the global centre for advanced art. While we couldn't directly disrespect our French allies, we could claim to surpass them, and this was one way to do it while pleasing the British at the same time.

It's an historical footnote, but Churchill's quip about Charles de Gaulle said it all: "Of all the crosses I must bear, the Cross Lorraine is the hardest." France gets on with Germany in the way that only former enemies can, but it has been said that the descendants of Napoleon never forgave the Yanks or the Brits for helping them to emerge as the victors of two wars. In this context, Greenberg's essays on French art and the School of Paris irked the French while pleasing those who wished to demonstrate that the United States was the new global superpower. As contrasted, of course, with a superpower whose name will not be mentioned here, but whose artists had neither a Clement Greenberg to sing their praises nor the funding for global exhibitions.

Alas, it suits no one to sing the praises of art-science. For that matter, relatively few people even care about the history of science — the point of science is that it builds on its own foundations by progressive improvements that render the past obsolete. The 18th century origins of computation theory or the principles of Newtonian optics interest relatively few. So it is with the rich history of the relations between art and science. But nano-technology and genetic therapy have a practical value that keeps them in the news, while we do relatively little with cash value in a world that values art that does well at auction.

In an art world driven by the wealthy collectors who also serve as museum patrons and the art dealers who supply their goods, the possibility that art-science matters for the right reasons is almost a guarantee that art critics will not take us seriously.



Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Elsevier in Cooperation with Tongji University Press | Launching in 2015

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology

On 2014Oct22, at 07:04, Stephen Nowlin <stephen.nowlin@artcenter.edu> wrote:

> Thoughtful point, Joe. Quick, rambling response, here . . .
> Regarding reaching general audiences, I guess, well, it takes a village -- i.e., Jackson Pollock needed the help he got from Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg. And Pollock's in-your-face radicalism didn't hurt either. Art itself has only a fleeting hold on the meanings an artist intends -- those meanings don't get forged into broad cultural existence until taken up and expanded upon by others. And it doesn't happen overnight. In my experience curating a couple decades of art-science exhibitions, I've found it a major challenge to get critics and writers to take the genre (if it's that) seriously. Mostly, when they do write about it, they target its novelty -- the pairing of strange bedfellows, these two domains from stereotypically opposite ends of a spectrum. That's about as deep as it goes -- the reviews are happy, upbeat, sometimes informative, surface-scratching. I think -- embedded within the art-science enterprise is a pretty radical idea, still: the supernatural is unnecessary to the enterprise of a meaningful existence. But if you want art to spread meaning, you can't rely on art to do the spreading. It's a problem for art-science -- despite burgeoning participation among artists and academics, for the public it doesn't really exist -- or if it does, it doesn't yet challenge or offend them, doesn't have an edge. It's still too pretty . . .
> /stephen

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