Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Carnie: The Two Cultures

From: Andrew Carnie
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 06:45:16 -0400 (EDT)

The Two Cultures, some thoughts

With reference to recent discussions I would like to add a few points in a similarly clumsy way that I have added to earlier discussions. Writing is not my metier and from time to time some would say neither is my visual work!

I would agree with what Suzanne is saying that there is a drive to move away from some of the maddeningly commercial driven aspects of the Art Fair and Art Market. Certainly some sanity can be found in the discourse and images displayed within this symposium. The web offers other ways of displaying material and new technologies, new ways of presenting material. This mean sartists can subvert the traditional dominant cultural forces and make the own production and consumption zones. Of course they then have to accept the limitations that come with such a domain.

With regard to the two cultures and notions of dominance of one over the other or considerations as to whether they are coming together that has been suggested, certainly I think mixing the two cultures up is healthy with us all having deeper understandings of every field of life is important. I think artists should be very happy to talk and work with any field of study.

Maybe there will be a new phase and a new fusion of science and art work and this will produce new types of production which will supersede our traditional separations. However I would venture to stand by the fact that ultimately I think the good scientist and the good artistist have to stand back from any excursion into the others field and make good science and good art from the heart of their own practise respectively. I do think that artists need to have content and they need to know it well, and this can be in a scientific field. The specialist will have to reign ultimately returning to what they know bestand the successful multidisciplinary expert will be very rare. I have written this, now do I believe it? give me a few days.

As a practitioner I don't feel any particular jealousy towards scientists and what they discover. I am amazed by what they do produce and I am amazed by whatI have produced and what other artists have produced over the centuries. I havetalked in conferences amongst scientists been overwhelmed by their discoveriesand ideas only to find at the end that they have been very impressed by what Ihave shown them in terms of my practise. The images and metaphors produced byartists are obviously powerful things.Strangely maybe it is often the art that seems to linger longer in memory fromany one generation or from any past century down the years. Is this acontroversial thing to say; is it only true of the past, only true of me? Willthis current generation and future generations remember only science from thisperiod we are in now, with science so dominant, or are there visual iconscurrently being produced which will pass on into the collective image bank thatfuture generations might carry?I can see an image of the Dutch anatomists at work in my head from the 17 century, [Thomas de Keyser, Osteology Lesson of Dr Sebastian Egbertsz 1619], but can remember little of the science of the time. Like wise I can conjure many artists from the Renaissance and their paintings but remember little of the fascinating discoveries made in Florence. I think if ones understanding of science are that it deals with facts one surpassing the other this does mean that the history of science becomes weakened force in ones memory over time. Ultimately the product of science is rules and formulae about the world which are ever being advanced. "Significant" art deals with particular human "subjective" truths and that these strangely become critically and objectively "true" generation after generation. Art is about sounds, pictures, poetry and prose and they seem to linger for longer. The science writing that Richard Wingate talks of in his recent submission is as he says paired down to exclude all metaphor, and has no place to resonate. The visual and sound world we know has existed for humans for much longer than that of the spoken and written word. We have always seen and heard but we have only begun to talk and write more recently; with the first the earliest known hieroglyphic inscriptions around 3200 BC; thought Homo Habilis was looking and hearing in Africa some two half million years ago. The picture and metaphor maybe have a deeper resonance a connection maybe with older areas of the brain. I rather like Richard Gregory's visual experiment with the hollow mask, spinning slowly; the nose always appears to stick-outeven when the reverse should be true. Our brains over rule our eyes, to say ""that nose's always protrude"; perception acts over sensation. A further adaptation to this demonstration has been added by Gregory and I think a team of Canadian scientists. Subjects asked to point to where the nose is on the mask when looked at hollow side facing them, always point in the air in front of the mask if asked to undertake this process with consideration. Asked to do it with speed and with no hesitation the subjects finger reaches into the mask and point into the inverted nose. At a deeper level our "old brain" gets it right and understands the real spatial aspect in the experiment. Deep down lies an unconscious visual awareness and truth.

Andrew Carnie
Artist and Lecturer
Winchester School of Art
Southampton University

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