Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When art meets science

Arthur I. Miller. Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science Is Redefining Contemporary Art. Norton: 2014. 352 pages. $29.95.
Dr. Miller’s encyclopedic survey begins at the dawn of the 20th century, when physicists as well as painters were testing radical new models of space and time. In the vein of his previous book “Einstein, Picasso,” Dr. Miller shows how the discovery of quantum mechanics inspired a generation of avant-garde artists, including Picasso, Kandinsky and Dalí, who said, “It is with pi-mesons and the most gelatinous and indeterminate neutrinos that I want to paint the beauty of the angels and of reality.”

Starting in the 1980s, Dr. Miller began to spend time with artists who have found their muse in science, and has watched as the scene grew. He knows the field like few others, interviewing many of the artists for hours at a stretch and visiting museums, galleries, media labs, and corporate behemoths like Pixar and Google.
This is important stuff. Artists should be making use of scientific imagery, which is often quite astonishing. It's certainly more important than the post-post-modern wanting that fills so many galleries and 'cutting edge' museum shows.
The book brims with an underdog mentality, as the author explains how the establishment art world has turned a cold shoulder to science-driven artists. The tide seems to be turning, as wide-eyed futurism goes mainstream and everyone wants to do a TED talk. “Some people who have been out in the wilderness for years are now getting traction,” as a museum director puts it.

When it comes to the future, Dr. Miller holds a utopian vision that includes young people “working with computers made of not-yet-invented materials” and “producing theories that generate images that can be manipulated like equations.” Tech gurus seem to agree that a discipline-blurring digital renaissance is underway. Some researchers counter that real science will continue to demand ultraspecialization rather than skillful dabbling.

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