Art in Science, Science in Art

With the arrival of the 18th century and the industrial and scientific revolutions, technical specialisation and advances in research and machinery have required professionals to specialise more and more, enlarging the gap between humanities and sciences. Nevertheless, many experts defend that art science and technology have kept influencing each other in many ways: “Although 18th- and 19th-century aesthetic theories asserted the autonomy of art, the development by artists of one-point perspective, anatomy studies, photography and virtual reality attest to the deeply intermingled histories of art, science and technology” (Shanken, 2005).

credit: Tim Dechent

There is a large body of science that demonstrates that promoting collaborative projects between technology and the arts results in new ideas. (eg. see Sandin et al. 2006 or Plautz, 2005). In the age of information, we strive for innovation and new ideas. Promoting interdisciplinary collaboration is therefore a necessity to keep innovation in science and technology, as well as the arts and humanities. We can only achieve this by bringing together experts and breaking the borders between science and art to achieve something greater.
The beginning of art-science collaborations dates as far as the Paleolithic. The cave paintings from this age have been associated not only with works of art but also scientific observation (Wilson, 2002, p.40). Throughout history, art has traditionally served to illustrate science, showing up in science books and lectures as anatomical drawings or plant sketches.

credit: Tim Dechent

Art has often been challenged as a medium to communicate science due to its complexity. “Art can appeal to the intellect and employ rational thinking but it is also a sensuous, subliminal experience, showing peripheries, incidentals, non-sequiturs”. (Ede, 2002). It has also been challenged as a medium to advance technology and scientific knowledge: “Although an increasing number of scientists are beginning to acknowledge that having artists around can create an environment that can stimulate exploratory thinking process, few would believe that artists might actually assist with advancing an experimental process”. (Ede, 2002).

credit: Tim Dechent

During the past decades art seems to have taken on a new function. Not only it has the potential to communicate scientific knowledge but it also has the ability to introduce new topics of research and points of view to contribute to the advancement of contemporary science: “Building on each other’s knowledge places society in a position to innovate even faster and is considered new ground for contemporary science” (Turek et al. 2017).

The experience and skills of the artist bring a new perspective into research that facilitates innovation and new ideas. The crucial role of the artist has been backed up by many experts in the past decades: “The contribution that artists can make to research and development is that they often approach problems in ways quite different from those of scientists and engineers, as demonstrated by the crucial role played by designers and artists in computer human interface research over the last years.” (Wilson, 2002, p.36).

credit: Tim Dechent

Art and science have always had their differences. Art has historically been perceived as an instrument of beauty. In the words of Kant, art has a “purposiveness without a purpose” (Ede , 2015, p.29). This means that even though the artwork might be done with a purpose, the artwork is the purpose itself. In line with Kant’s view, the famous poet and playwright Oscar Wilde said: “All art is quite useless”. It seems logical to assume that this is only true if a true purpose ought to be external to the agent, if having a purpose means serving an external force. (WIlde, 2009, p.6)

On the other hand, if we take having a purpose as ‘serving an external force’, science does ‘have a purpose’. Science serves humanity in advancing knowledge by understanding and explaining the world we live in. As I see it, both disciplines have a common goal which is providing a better understanding of the world. Art seeks for this understanding by posing questions, and science by providing answers.


Ede, S. (2002) Science and the contemporary visual arts. Pubic Understanding of Science 11, 65-78

Ede, S. (2015). Art and Science. London: I.B.Tauris and co ltd, pp.2-29.

Shanken, E. (2005). Artists in Industry and the Academy: Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations. Leonardo, 38(4), pp.278-279.Sian Ede book

Turek, J., Mydlova, M., (2017). Knowledge exchange in Collaborative networks: Characteristics and shifts in how knowledge is exchanged in collaborative networks. CODEC.

Wilde, O. (2009). Dorian Gray. London: Penguin. pp. 3-6.

Wilson, S. (2002) Information arts: intersections of art, science and technology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Read the full article in PLASMA #4

credit Nora Heinisch

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