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Lesson Plans

Art and Science (part 2)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
henry (taylorh)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 11:31:09 -0700 (MST)

On Wed, 9 Oct 1996 Fred wrote:

> henry,
> Tell me more. What are the useful differences between art and science. What
> is wrong with being confused as to which is which? I get confused all the
> time. Particularly when I am not in a school. It seems to me that it is the
> traditional divisions, the so-called disciplines of knowledge, that muck
> things up. They are artificial and arbitrary and barely useful when we
> function out of the academic setting. It is hard to keep things clear and
> distinguishable because they are not.

OK, in part one, I argued that science was most interested in
reproduction at the highest tolerances and resolution and with
prediction. I also argued that Art's interest in such things was much
more limited. Both Art and Science are interested in EVERYTHING but the
results are different, and for good reason.

Mostly, I would say, Art is interested in what the individual has to
express. Given a specific theme for a show if thirty artists responded
with the same painting it wouldn't be much of a show. If we had a school
of artists studying our dear friend Mona Lisa and attempting to improve upon
her visiage to make it stronger, more durable, especially expressive etc.
I think they would be on the wrong track. (But that's an opinion, It IS
an idea and I can certainly see it happening and it would be interesting
as a collective conceptual performance but it would be THAT PERFORMANCE
which would be the work of art not the "improved Monas" which would be
more along the lines of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from the movie, not art,
but collectable)

So I'm saying that art is divergent and science is convergent. Art, in
general, tries to find many unique and personal answers to a human
question. For science a personal answer is inadequate. For science a
unique one time solution or response to an enduring problem is
insignificant. Science doesn't bother itself with re-inventing the wheel
(unless we NEED a new wheel). Art wants to know what YOUR response to the
idea and experience of the wheel IS!

I was asked on another list recently if a "science of art" were possible.
It's not really a surprising question. It seems to me that Seurat was
working along such lines. I "science of art" IS possible. BUT such a
science would represent only one possible approach to art. Either that or
all other art which came before might be consigned to the same fate as
Alchemy and Astrology.... instead of psuedo-science, we'd have psuedo-art.
It's a possible thing to attempt. It would probably work and we could
dismiss all those who would not cooperate in doing "good, scientific art"
as crackpots. We probably do similar things all the time (every hundred
years or so :)

You talk about the traditional divisions of knowledge as if it were
scientific. Do you have a similar problem with the table of elements?
Probably not. The more material or concrete a thing is the more easily it
fits with science. Knowledge is not always like that. Human beings are
definitely like that. Humans are much more like art in that they ask for
personalization. If you try and deal with a helium atom as if it were
exactly like all the other helium atoms, most likely you wouldn't go far
wrong. If you take a human being, on the other hand; a specific one with a
name and personal quirks, a remembered history, and everything and try to
deal with that human as if it were exactly like your statistical model of
all humans I predict you would be in for some problems. We educators have
the same problem and we even dela with our students at a much finer level
of resolution. Our statistical reference model includes age, gender, all
kinds of things. We can predict that a certain class in the upper grades
will attract a certain kind of pupil, but there is no guarantee.
Sometimes the student is there because a parent or counselor told them to
be. This doesn't happen with helium atoms.

Teaching is an art, as far as I'm concerned, and trying to deal with it as
if it were a science muddles things up as much or more than it helps
things. The thing is, the voters want standardized "students" that are,
like the kids of Lake Woebegone, "all above average" but they'd lynch us
all if we really did try to treat or make each and every kid the same as
the next one. These are the kinds of problems that come up when we try to
make an art more efficient by trying to convert it to a science.

The "science part" of education exists. How many different, basic, kinds
of kids are there? Are they standardized across the curriculum or does
their "type" change as they encounter different disciplines? The "art
part" of education lies in the mediation of the mechanistic
institution/infrastructure and the personal individual... it lies in
getting compatibles together and insuring the "mesh" between student and

If one doesn't make or at least try to make distinctions its hard to see
and to deal with the problems. The distinctions may not be eternal and we
shouldn't expect them to be. Large parts of the distinctions are
frequently "as-if" structures, metaphors, tropes... things to help us
make sense of something that is still too complex and undistinguishable
to make sense of. Both art and science help us to gain perspective; help
us to see at finer and finer resolutions, to see tiny differences we
hadn't noticed before. Science emphasizes one side of things and art the
other; the mechanistic/convergent and the personal/divergent.

It's useful to be able to tell the difference between Science and Art and
to know which approach is likely to be of the most help in a given



  • Maybe reply: Kit Eakle: "Re: Art and Science (part 2)"
  • Reply: Lynn Foltz: "Re: integration"
  • Maybe reply: henry: "Re: Art and Science (part 2)"