Sunday, August 18, 2013

Science of Art



In 1959, British scientist and novelist C P Snow delivered a lecture aptly titled The Two Cultures

Snow, like many other intellectuals of his day, felt shocked to see the world divided into two camps – science and humanities. 

In the lecture, he tried to show that the divide was very recent, largely a modern phenomenon, that came out of industrial revolution, colonization of the world by Europe, and the two World Wars.

Since prehistoric times, man has been trying to interpret his connection to the rest of the universe. 

This interpretation took different approaches in history, natural philosophy, moral philosophy, religion and art. 

All these evolved to be complete disciplines of study, in the historical periods. All these were connected.


Art and articulation possibly came from the same root. 

When man could not explain some of his connections with nature he took recourse to the unexplainable – to magic. All art in the beginning were probably magical.

 Altamira's cave paintings, pre-Vedic triatonal music, symbolic clan representation in the Stonehenge, or ancient dance of Siva which possibly talks about a clash between two civilizations in India, began as something beyond calculative logic.

Religions sprang up from the cult of the dead, as well as the fertility cult. 

As celebrations of life, the magical art forms were inherently related to the ancient rites that these pantheistic religions produced. 

Man wanted to get rid of uncertainties of death, and to celebrate life. 

Fear and uncertainties came from the unknown. Death and future both were unknown. Art was a solace.


Initially, Art meant skill. That usage can still be seen in the art of public speaking, or the art of cooking

Artists and artisans were not different people before the Art for Art's sake movement, which came to the forefront in the Eighteenth century Europe, and paved the way for fine arts.

But, if following those purists, art is something "which appeals to the mind and the imagination", why does it appeal at all?

 Art may not have direct practical utility. 

One does not die if s/he stops consuming art. But, artists make lots of money. At least many do; more than the people of utility. 

So, art is in demand. Society needs art. The question is why.

Mechanical engineering or open heart surgery is a skill. One knows how to teach and practice that, precisely because one knows how to put that skill to use and why it is useful.

Can art be used like that? If artists know how their art is going to affect the public sensibilities, they can make it more saleable. 

On the other hand, if art is something to tune up public psyche, it can be used very effectively for any change in the collective mind of the masses, for propaganda.

Can art be scientifically anatomized, taught and put back to practice with a precise agenda?

Is there a science of Art?

The answer comes from both the camps – from the artists' and the scientists'. And the answer is, largely, "Yes".

(to be continued)


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