Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Science and Art

The motto of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is Vetenskap och Konst, "Science and art". The word art is used here in an earlier sense of "craft skill". Engineers allow their craft skill to be guided by science. Do build a beautiful bridge, but first make sure to calculate its tensile strength.

The same motto might be claimed by Swedish colleges for art and music. In recent years, their organisation has been made more uniform with the rest of the higher education system. You can now become a piano professor and do research in sculpture. This is something quite apart from art and music studies in the Arts Faculty of a university. The university scholar is an external observer of art, and these disciplines were until recently known as art history etc. The piano professor, however, is a pianist.

On 11 June, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported about an letter sent jointly by the leaders of Stockholm's six art colleges to the Minister of Culture and Education. The article's headline was "Do not keep art and science apart". The six signatories asked for money from the Swedish Research Council to finance "developed research in art that can give new insights into the methods and processes of the artist". Nota bene, research in art, not about art. The intended purpose would be to allow artists to do "research" into their own processes of creation and "leave the work of art untouched".

The college leaders quote a Dutch scholar: "Research in art does not distinguish subject from object". The headmistress of the University College of Dance, Eva Lilja, was quoted as saying "it is important not to polarise, not to keep art and science apart". She complained that research in art always has to compete with university research at the Arts Faculty. "We always lose, since artistic research does not apply scientific methods and practices".

Dear Reader, if you know me at all, you'll realise that this had my eyes bugging out. I certainly hope that the Research Council will continue to refuse to finance activities that do not distinguish between subject and object, that do not apply scientific methods and practices. Polarising is important. Art is art and science is science. The one seeks beauty in one sense or another. The other seeks truth. That's a very important distinction. I don't want my tax money to pay scientists to write speculative fiction at work, nor to allow painters and musicians to play at being scholars.

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Blogger Stephen said...

"I don't want my tax money to pay scientists to write speculative fiction at work, nor to allow painters and musicians to play at being scholars."

That's not to say that very good things can't come out of such work, of course, right?

07 July, 2006 01:22  
Blogger Martin said...

Well, if the fiction-writing scientist is good enough then I suppose she will quit her science job and become a successful writer. The problem would be all the half-assed or undiscovered ones who spent years of public money on nothing, or produced bogus science.

As for the artists, no, I don't think people without any scientific training are likely to contribute much of any value to scholarship. And we'd get less art.

07 July, 2006 09:10  

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