Friday, 4 December 2009

It's Art, not Science

I cringe whenever I hear this prase.

It shows a clear misunderstanding of what science is. Science is the way in which we try and describe and interpret what is going on around us. To say that art (or religion, for that matter) is beyond science is to say that you can't describe it. Which, of course, is nonsense. Of course we can describe it.

Let's ask the question about music. What makes a great piece of music? We can begin very simply. It seems that most popular music moves to a beat. You can click your fingers to a regular rythm. There, we've described an aspect of music. We're applying science to art.

Oh wait, I thought you couldn't do that... Rubbish!

Everything around us (everything!) can be broken down into a science. And the more we learn about a certain thing, the more we understand it, the closer we come to the singularity where art and science meet.

The ultimate test would be to find a natural artistic genius and a scientist knowledgeable and capable the artist's field and have them both produce a piece of art. Let's say it's music we're talking about. We get a talented musician, and a skilled scientist to each produce a piece of music. The musician does what he does (he doesn't know how he does it.. he's talented and has a feel for it. It just comes out. It's art!) The scientist has done his studies and he does know what gifted artists are doing when they produce good art and applies those techniques to his work.

So both artist and scientist produce a piece of music and the music is put though double-blind trials. A range of randomly selected people listen to the music and try to discern which piece is 'art' and which is 'simply an application of science'.

The day where the testees can't tell which piece is by whom is the day that music has been figured out by science to the point where it stops being an art. To me art is a human product that humans produce without fully understand how we do it.

I had to add this since it's such an excellent example of what I'm discussing.


In ancient times, there were rare people skilled at healing. Shamans, druids, herbalists didn't always know exactly what they were doing, though they still managed to heal their patients (sometimes). Then, healing would have been an art.

Today, medicine relies heavily on scientific advancement. The human body is a highly studied field. Few would consider their local doctor or GP an artist.

What changed? Only how much we knew about healing, disease and the human body. With knowledge, art becomes skill.

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