SciArt Magazine - All Issues - Page 5

to the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio’s Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus. Leaving aside the fact that much of that art was sanctioned by theocracies or religious authorities, this was mainly because religion was such an obvious subject for the painter/writer/sculptor due to their own immersion and knowledge of it, but also because they could rely on the audience’s expansive common knowledge of the symbolism of religion. Ancient friezes on churches have symbolic connotations that are lost upon us now-a-days — they are essentially written in a vanishing language. The public conceptual richness of religion allowed for continual exploitation by artists — all of it was used by artists to communicate their own ideas and inspirations. But now the educated elite are marked not by their knowledge of Latin, but their knowledge of programming. And science has had three hundred years to build its concepts, terms, and influence — and these have all become common knowledge over the last one hundred. You would be hard pressed to find such conceptual structures as rich in symbolism as the staircase curl of a double helix. It represents the material bounds of life as much as the cross represents the immaterial bounds of life. And people trust science — they put, as it were, their faith in it, just as much as historically many have put their faith in the church. Not only are scientific symbols and themes powerful and structured in the same manner as the religious, they are also, we suppose, true. This puts the educated citizen of the modern day in exactly the same daily relationship with science as an educated citizen would have had with religion four hundred years ago. Both operate as a set of shared symbols, concepts, narratives, valuable not merely because they are complex and useful, but for their assumed truth. Of course, this could be uncharitably characterized as merely an argument for relevancy. To be relevant — as if great art does not create its own relevancy — and to be publicly-accessible, is necessary for art. But of course, this may then seem as if art is essentially acquiescent to science. Like an obsequious suitor, it can court science to gain its relevancy. This is not what I mean here — I mean that art should concern itself with science, that is, to take science as its subject matter with the same confidence as it took to the public domain of religion through- SciArt in America August 2013 out civilization, and for essentially the same reasons — to communicate within an available structure. So why is scientifically orientated art relatively rare — whether it be visual art, literature, drama, music, or dance? I think, fundamentally, the artists who reject science as an inappropriate subject are afraid. Science is so truthful, so powerful at stripping away illusions and falsehoods and folk understandings. Dan Dennett described Darwinism as “universal acid,” dissolving everything it comes in contact with, but he might as well have been taking about science in general. I think fundamentally, perhaps unconsciously, those who scoff at an art based in science are worried that art, and the humanities in general, are liable to be exposed as being somehow fraudulent — or becoming reduced and inconsequential — just by coming in contact with science. The idea that art should insulate itself from science, protecting itself like a moth that dies under contact from a touch, drastically underestimates the power of art to subject phenomena to analysis and drastically overestimates the necrotic power of science. And this idea comes from a confusion between the methodology of science as carried out by scientists, and the scientific aspect of our daily lives. Ultimately, such a stance denies of art its appropriate purview, which is of both the beautiful and the true.
 Erik P Hoel is a neuroscience PhD candidate and a fiction writer. Erik P Hoel, Contributor 5