Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Modernity, Science and Art Essay

A rather common perception of science is the comparison between the process of creating a scientific work and working on an object of art. This analogy can be easily comprehended, as a valuable scientific work requires imagination, reoccurring observations and a synthesis between the scientist’s own ideas and the findings. Needless to say that science, regardless of the discipline practiced, is a highly innovative field, where novelty is one of the main markers of value and quality.

The question, however, is whether or not this analogy can also indicate that art (in the sense of creation, excluding art studies) is a science. Svetlana Alpers’ attitude towards the issue is rather ambiguous. In her 1998 essay The Studio, the Laboratory, and the Vexations of Art, which constitutes the critical framework this paper tries to address, the author finds some evidence that support the analogy, but suggests extreme cautious as of the derived comparison between the studio and the laboratory.

When conducting an experiment, the sound scientist makes a clear distinction between two types of causal relations, namely the separate concepts of efficacy and effectiveness. Broadly speaking, the conclusion that one element bring about a certain change in another element to a measurable extent (e.g. substance A will reduce one’s blood pressure by 20% on average) is defined as efficacy when it is seen only in a laboratory, whereas an observation of the same effect outside of the laboratory (e.g. through so-called field experiments) will allow the scientist to assume an effective treatment. Similar distinction can be made in regard to the artist: the studio can be used for examining methods and results, such as “the effect of the play of light” (Alpers 404); however, as the nude is very different between the studio and the natural environment, the artist must examine the model outside of the studio (ibid., 408).

Even if the studio creates a sense of solitude and limits the creative process (ibid., 411), Alpers argues that it allows a unique opportunity to better attend the world from a certain distance (405). By this respect, this examination resembles the methodology of secondary research, which constitutes an essential element of any scientific process. Nevertheless, although an anthropologist may gain valuable insights from reading available materials on a certain cultural phenomenon, a failure to support the study with relevant observations should significantly reduce the credibility of the scientific work.

An example from the world of art can be found in Alpers’ criticism on the works of Thomas Jones, who painted rooftops that appeared from his studio’s window (413). The author admits that walls can be reliably observed from one’s window, but Jones would have failed to keep the same level of fidelity if he tried to paint the landscape and the sky from his Naples’ studio.

Based on scientific conventions and Alpers’ work, we can conclude that the studio is, to a limited extent, the laboratory of the artist. Modernity may be nurtured from the laboratory and the studio, but it would be flawed without successive implementations in the object’s natural environment.

Works Cited
Alpers, Svetlana. “The Studio, the Laboratory, and the Vexations of Art.” Picturing Science, Producing Art. Eds. Jones, Caroline A., Peter Galison, and Amy E. Slaton. London: Routledge, 1998. 401-416. Handout.
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