Art and science unite for a week

31 October 2013

The interface of art and science was explored by expert speakers and artists including Michael Hoch, founder of the CERN outreach programme, Art@CMS, in a week-long programme at the City of London Boys School in October.

Art and science unite for a week

Philosopher A.C. Grayling contributed a video interview, and the school hosted an art exhibition that will continue until 29 November, with videos of the project  to be made available to the public.

The event, entitled Unseen Dimensions: Dialogues in Art and Science, was conceived as a project to break down the divide between artistic and scientific disciplines and to demonstrate to students that they need not be pigeon-holed in their study choices. Head of science and head of physics, Hugh Jones, said: “Passion and creativity are common themes in science and in art. We wanted to excite the students here with the breadth of cross-curricular thinking and to show them that art and science share similar values, similar themes and similar characteristics.”

The week was launched with a talk on “The new avant-garde” by Prof. Arthur I Miller, emeritus professor of the history and philosophy of science at University College London. Prof. Raymond Oliver, from the University of Northumbria, spoke on “Towards future ways of living (that matter to people)”, and Michael Cook, who researches in computational creativity, gave a talk entitled “My iPad just had a great idea”. There was also a talk on “Matter and material” by Heather Barnett, artist and lecturer in art/science at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Daniel Glaser, director of the Science Gallery at King’s College London, spoke on the question “What is the right space for art and science to collide?”.

The art exhibition was curated by Alison Gill, a sculptural artist and part-time teacher at the school who will present her work at CERN in December. As well as pieces by Hoch and Barnett, the Unseen Dimensions exhibition includes works by Annie Cattrell, Melanie Jackson, Jason Wallis-Johnson and Bill Woodrow, and students at the school.

Preceding the week, Prof. Miller gave a lecture at Gresham College in London on “Creativity in art, creativity in science”, exploring the links between creativity in both fields, and how they had affected each other. He described how Picasso had been influenced by advances in mathematics when creating his Cubist paintings and how Bohr had been interested in Cubist art as a way of trying to visualise some concepts in quantum mechanics.

The information age had given rise to data visualisation art and computer-generated art, he said. Algorithms had been created that could generate music sounding like Bach’s compositions, which many could not distinguish from the real thing, he noted. Miller also described how in 1966, A. Michael Noll had used a computer to generate a picture similar to Piet Mondrian’s painting, Composition with Lines. Shown both pictures, only 28 out of 100 subjects could identify the computer-generated picture, and 59 of the subjects preferred it to Mondrian’s.

Prof. Miller noted that software artist Scott Draves had even gone so far as to say: “I believe that computation can reproduce the whole creative process, and that computers can have soul.” In a question and answer session, Prof. Miller was asked whether a computer could only create patterns or if it could ever have anything to say about the human condition. He said: “Not right now, but I don’t want to say never.” He agreed that he saw scientific and artistic creativity as essentially the same thing, and when pushed, he thought that it was just possible that computers might one day be able to make scientific discoveries.

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