• On the Relationship between Art and Science | Part III

On the Relationship between Art and Science | Part III

It is gratifying to be able to respond to the lively demand for a continuation of my reflections on how, by means of the arts, or rather the revival of the teachings in the art academies, decisive attempts could be made to give us humans a chance before the self-generated climate catastrophe. This is based on the observation, to which I have already referred in previous essays, that almost all the problems of social life we are currently confronted with are purely problems of form, or rather problems of the formation of form. In order to make progress here, we must practice skills of form cognition and form formation, which are primarily concerned with the "HOW" of a thing, i.e. the form is more important than the "WHAT", its content. In short: the form is more important than the content of a thing.

This statement is perhaps difficult to comprehend because it is unfamiliar. I would like to remind you, as I have already tried to explain in detail, that we need a "new way of thinking", i.e. something unfamiliar is coming our way. Of course, the question immediately arises: what is thinking? The pre-Socratic thinker Parmenides of Elea (died around the 5th century BC), one of the most important natural philosophers, gave an answer to this that is still valid today. Unfortunately, I cannot go into this further at this point, as I would be opening a philosophical debate that would take me far away from my topic. Nevertheless, I will have to comment on the process of thinking in due course.

In any case, reflecting on new thinking is not easy because familiar old thinking has to be abandoned, which naturally leads to disorientation. In this respect, it requires a certain courage to embrace the new, to face the unfamiliar. I would like to encourage my readers to do so.

The theologian, philosopher and founder of the humanities as an independent discipline, Wilhelm Dilthey (1833 - 1911), in his extensive studies of cultural history, repeatedly spoke of "expressions of human life that have become form" and thus perhaps gave the most far-reaching answer to the question, "What is culture?” By doing so he pointed to the central importance of forms, regardless which forms, because culture encompasses everything, not just art. I also explained this in detail earlier.

The starting point for a process of form formation is always a so-called "world view" of people. I will also go into this in more detail later with regard to its historical development.

As the term suggests, a worldview is initially formed from the "world view" of each individual. This world view is composed of inner and outer experiences of the individual subject, which arise in her, her relation to the world and the people living and working in it. From this, an image of the world appears to her. It is a purely pictorial process which must not be disturbed by anything in its absolute subjectivity and freedom. Above all, concepts and terminology that precede this pictorial life and thus have a disturbing effect must not cut off the inner creative happening. This image of the world is an image-life in motion and thus, as a form, still unfinished. It is an idea about the world and its phenomena. Only when the individual arranges his or her experience and recognition as an idea in relation to and together with other people does a durable form emerge which is effective and aims at a recognised meaning. From this, and only from this, a true "world view" arises, which then makes higher values and principles possible as ideals for action within a society, beyond the purely subjective.

I would like to explicitly point out two essential points again:

  • that worldview (idea) and worldview (form) are completely different and therefore never mean the same thing;
  • that a worldview that serves humanity has its origin in free subjects and has nothing to do with religion.

An indeterminate but purposeful feeling of power in mankind that wants to accept this and no other form of the thing which it is about proves to be an attraction to an imagined meaning that requires this and no other form. Such a form relates the object to the meaning. It is a bridge between object and meaning. That is the central core of every artistic creation.

This may all sound very difficult to understand, but only because we are attempting a new kind of thinking here. What is new about this thinking is, for example, that we very rarely, if ever, think about: what is a form? We said: a bridge between object and meaning. Perhaps no-one understands this thesis, although it is not difficult at all. Example: the form is a wardrobe (= object), its meaning is to store clothes in it. The form connects both object and meaning, namely wardrobe and storage. It is as simple as that!


The ability to form, to be able to follow this path willingly in freedom, is not easy and requires training, or rather an apprenticeship and a field of practice, for example in art academies.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 - 1832) refers to the difficulty of form recognition in his treatise: "Maximen und Reflexionen. From Art and Antiquity," 1826.

                "Everyone sees the material before him,

                The content only he who has something to do with it,


Let us try to understand this hint from Goethe:

"The material" represents the real, which everyone faces and has before her.

In order to grasp the "content", something must be added: an "idea", opening about the material, because if I have no ideas about the real (the material), I cannot think about anything (the digital age sends its regards).

Explained more precisely: reality (= content) only comes into being for mankind when she adds something to the appearances of the real. She must, literally understood, bring herself into the real (reflect). This gives rise to a process of the formation of form, which therefore tends to remain a mystery (this is precisely what Goethe means), because this insertion is the business of everyone and requires inner work. It requires effort, which is usually omitted for the sake of our own convenience. As a rule, it is enough for us to know "WHAT is the case". But we rarely ask "HOW something is the case!" We do not ask further, because it’s exhausting. So we get stuck in half-knowledge. But with half-knowledge we cannot form valid realities of our own from the real, which are totally valid. The real is unique, infinite, and also chaotic. Realities arise from world views of free people who are able to form their own forms. That is why we are always dealing with many realities. Incidentally, this is also the reason why dictators want to exercise rule and power primarily through the spirit and action of artists. Because they, the artists, develop their creative power and imagination in freedom.


At the beginning I mentioned I would explain a bit about the historical development of "worldview". To do this, we must first go back to a time in which the thought of a world view and subsequently of a world outlook by human beings did not yet exist. In fact it was quite the opposite: the post-mortal world and a real life taking place there determined people's consciousness. Aversion to the world characterised this reality. This was the time of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian advanced civilisations. An epoch of about 4000 years before Christ. What emerged as a germ in these ancient cultures later penetrated Europe intellectually, developed rationally and led towards an early completion by the Greeks. The ancient and oriental traditions were joined by a further lineage in the form of Christianity. In the course of this, the image of an independent East and an independent West emerges. This tension between the Western and Eastern Roman empires forms the prehistory of European culture. A special note: Europe's roots therefore do not lie in Europe itself, but in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

We are now in the years 2000 AD and must naturally assume that numerous adoptions from the longer-lasting ancient cultures are still strongly effective with us today, especially in Christianity. I would like to cite just one example: The image of "Isis with her son Horus on her lap" ca. 800 BC, 48.9 cm high, can be regarded as exemplary for the depictions of "Mary with the boy Jesus" in Christianity.

Isis with child ancient Agypt
essIsis with child, bronze, 48.9cm high, 800 – 700 BC

Since the 6th century BC, something like a new impact of the spirit seems to have been working simultaneously in the great cultures of the then known world. French philosophers in particular discovered this as early as the mid-18th century. The German philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883 - 1969) coined the term "Axis Time" for this phenomenon in his work "On the Origin and Goal of History" (1949). Religious and philosophical approaches were created that brought about a step into the universal or "spiritualisation" (Jaspers), which entailed a change in the entire human condition. This gave rise to basic categories in which people still think today: the "axis of world history around which everything revolves" (Jaspers), dividing its course into "before" and "after".

In China, it was the teachings of Confucius and Lao Tzu; in India, those of Buddha; in Persia, Zaratrustha; in the Orient, the biblical prophets Haggar, Zechariah and Ezra, and in the West, the pre-Socratic natural philosophers, e.g. Parmenides and, after them, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many others.

These thinkers formed a new spiritual directionality in the form of a "worldliness"! They drove their spiritual forces towards the real, the "Gaia", the Mother Earth, and tried to gain knowledge from this encounter. In this way, the interrelationship between mankind and the world developed on the basis of a kind of perception technique which they called "aisthesis". Centuries later, this developed into the concept of "aesthetics", the first scientific summary of which was written by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714 - 1762) in his work "Ästhetica" in Latin.

At this point, attention must be drawn to a special path within Greek development: it concerns the development of the concept of freedom, which formed in the polis of Athens as nowhere else in the then known world and laid "the foundation of all Western consciousness of freedom, both in the real reality of freedom and in thought" (Jaspers, p. 88), and indeed to this day!

(Polis = a community of several 1000 citizens in a city with self-government. The birthplace of democracy).

In China and India, for example, freedom was never developed in this political understanding.

The Greeks formed the Occident as a spiritual category of freedom. They gave this freedom a shape IN THE FORM of democracy: every citizen has a vote! It is a worldview entirely related to the relationship between mankind and the reality of life.


In the sanctuary of Delphi, the god Apollo challenges mankind: "Know thyself!" A question of form! The philosopher Protagoras (490 BC) determines: " Of all things the measure is man, of the things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not." With this "Homo Mensura Theorem", which has gone down in the history of philosophy, the subject becomes the determining measure of all processes of the formation of form. The appearance of the beautiful represented by the human being was seen as exemplary for the realisation of beauty. The sculptor Polyklet (around 480 B.C.) designed a model figure, a "canon" (= set of rules), according to which statues were created in perfection and remained a fixed component of teaching in European art academies until modern times.

Ephebe recruit ancient Greece
Ephebe (= recruit) Athen. Nat.-Museum, Stele des Panaitios, Attisch 2. H. 5. BC. Picture archive Foto Marburg

Worth mentioning: the time when people were "turned away from the world" (Messopotamian and Egyptian cultures, 4000 years) contrasts with only 2000 years of "turned towards the world" today. We have been looking inwards much longer than outwards. This later developed into the creation of art to artistically capture the tense relationship between interior and exterior space, just as we breathe in and out.

After this excursion into the history of the development of THINKING IN FORMS, I will return to the explanations about the necessity of finding form today and its root question: HOW something is and not to omit this "how-question", but on the contrary, to place it in its importance above the question of the "WHAT", the content. The HOW always grasps the whole of form. Individual facts (= contents) only become comprehensible from and in the FORM WHOLE and even depending on the position of the form whole, the facts can also be subject to changing meanings. Perhaps put more simply: we must always step from the whole (= the form) to the detail in order to be able to experience and also understand something completely, and not try to go from the detail (the facts) to the whole, because the whole in its power of effect is more than the sum of its parts. Holism, which is talked about so much today, is therefore never the goal of our endeavour, but always stands at the beginning of our endeavour. We must have a concept, an idea, a conviction of it, of wholeness, in order to then proceed from there to what seems significant. To do this, we must educate ourselves to become masters of form and the formation of form, and this can only happen in an artistic education and training and never in scientific or humanities education and training.

Goethe expresses this circumstance in two sentences:

                "Science has the theorem, art has the problem." (Source see above)

And the problem is mankind and her life in a real world in which she must develop forms of life and survival.

The painter Max Beckmann (1884 - 1950) expressed this situation in which he found himself, in his lecture: "On my painting", in London, 1938, thus:

"For me it is always a question of grasping the magic of reality and translating this reality into painting. Making the invisible visible through reality. That may sound paradoxical, but it is really reality that forms the very mystery of existence."

Beckmann often shows man-made cruelties in this world in his paintings and to make them seem bearable, he presents them in theatre and circus scenes, or in the world of myths. He does exactly what Goethe demands, adding something to the content if he wants to find a content. With Beckmann, it is the myths and the world of the circus and theatre.

"The truth is ugly. We have art so that we don't go to ruin because of the truth."

(Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900); posthumous fragment 1887 - 1889)

Nietzsche certainly did not mean that art should serve us as a denial of the truth about our existence, but as a path to a more wholesome reality of life. He appeals to the formative power of human beings through art. You never hear anything like that today!


I tried to explain how the desire of people in ancient Greece for a view of their world came about in my brief historical sketch and how this endeavour shaped the works of sculptors in particular. Now I would like to ask what subsequently shaped the endeavour or the consciousness of the artists?  Who or what then became their inspirer/inspired them? The revelations of the Bible determined Christian-oriented artistic creation for well over 1000 years in Europe. Afterwards, artists used the achievements of antiquity again for their work (Renaissance). The Florentine painter and sculptor Michaelangelo (1475 - 1564) postulated: "our art is that of ancient Greece!" The young Florentine aristocrat Pico della Mirandola (1436 - 1494) said in his famous speech "On the Dignity of Man": "...in the midst of all created things man is placed as the connecting link of all creaturely nature." He lets God speak to man: "...not heavenly, not earthly have we created thee. Thou shalt be thine own workmaster and sculptor, and shalt FORM thyself out of the material that suits thee."

Since then, artists elevated Mother Nature and the study of nature to their new source of inspiration until well into the 20th century.

The obvious question now is: who or what took over the inspiration of artists afterwards? It can only be something on the scale of the "Bible" or "nature". In order to give an answer to this question, I refer to the previous essay, in which I describe economy as the power of our time that dominates all thinking. It is the power that permeates and determines everything. But how can the sphere of economy serve as a source of inspiration for the arts? After all, it seems to us to be the exact opposite in its intentions of striving for material value creation. Economy is purpose-oriented. The purpose of art is its purposelessness. What is supposed to go together?


I have already explained that a new way of thinking is necessary to avert the climate catastrophe of mankind's own making. I do not understand thinking as a place in or at which ideas arise. Thinking is a process of perception, just as the eye is to light, for example. And now the central question: How do we perceive the appearance of economy, or how do we perceive the human being working for his bourgeois existence? How do we perceive the reality of labour? All questions about form! All this is said to be determined and thus answered by market events! But is it really the market that decisively determines the form of labour? No, it is not the market or free competition. The form of labour, its reality, is formed from a different relationship. Obviously, the FORM of labour reveals the fact that no one can work for herself alone, but is dependent on always being active for another person who takes her work from her in order to consume it or to continue working on it.

There seems to be something like a secret in the process of work, which one is not able to open because one does not pay attention to the form of the work process, but only to the product (= content).

In the personal work process, therefore, it is always about the needs of the other, never about one's own needs and also not about the needs of the market. The market comes into play primarily when I create an additional artificial need through the need of the other person and thus produce something that he or she does not actually need. However, people's perceptive abilities must be trained and practised in recognising the needs of the other and to fulfil them. My own needs, in turn, are perceived and fulfilled by the other. This results in a completely different picture of economic activity, which, for example, would lead to me working wrongly for the needs of the other if I poison the fields, destroy nature and climate and exploit the other!

Seen from this perspective, everything in the economy has been going the wrong way from the very beginning. Profit- and growth-oriented, it mows everything down in the same way and there is no room left for people, for whom it is getting colder and colder and makes the last demand of the French Revolution for "brotherhood" more and more distant.

It may not be wrong to stand up for the rights of working people. But it would be much more important in our sense to involve her in the spirit of labour by means of her abilities. For example, by asking, "What product is it reasonable to produce?" Then we would also make progress in answering the social question: "who will help me in the competition against the never-slackening power of the machines?" Here it is worth remembering the uprising of the weavers and all subsequent workers' movements, which since industrialisation during the 19th century have left this social question unanswered until today.

Conscious perception, however, must be practised. But where and how? Through mindfulness training, for example? Or self-optimisation through forest bathing and moss listening? Probably not. Only by creating art, which is always about the struggle for the perfected form by the creatively active human being.

THE WORK OF ART IS THE MOST EXTREME FORM AND THE MOST SUBTLE FORM OF WHOLENESS IN EXISTENCE. In this regard, I would like to refer back to what I said earlier about the form-whole and its central significance. It is about the aesthetic category of "alterity", the otherness of the work of art: it always shows the other, the foreign and never the factual, which is the case. The alterity in the work of art is that art is always concerned with the other. It never shows nature as it is, then it would only be copying. It shows the possible, how something could be, another way of imagining. As a result, creating and viewing art is always a practice in understanding the other. Understanding the other and understanding others naturally leads to a better understanding of oneself, because one always finds one's own in the other, otherwise one could not relate to the other at all. Thus, it is an educational-political fall from grace that art lessons being cut back and that understanding the other, understanding the otherness of the other, the alterity, is no longer practised in schools. For young people in particular, understanding the foreign and the stranger has thus been lost as a crucial field of practice. It should not be surprising that strangers are often met with violence and that even friendship and community spirit are lost in school classes. Disorientation spreads. All this could be countered through art and it is one of the essential tasks of art education to make this clear through works of art: through their alterity. Alterity is the emancipatory potential of artBecause if you develop an understanding for the other, then that is a kind of emancipation. Art is an essential aid to this.

Already prepared in this way in schools, young people enter the reality of employment with completely different eyes and are able to form an entirely different picture of everything. In this way, art education can also be a truly political education.

Science and especially the science of economics cannot do all this. They cannot grasp the initial conditions of economic creation because they are unable or unwilling to recognise the needs of the other (see developing countries), they always start from target ideas of the respective optimisation of production and thereby overlook the reality of labour, its form.

The most recent example: the new report of the "World Climate Council" has just been published with the expected conclusion: that the climate catastrophe is getting rapidly and dangerously worse, previous efforts to protect the climate have again been insufficient. And the debate ended like this: everyone is convinced of the most urgent need. But the question remained unanswered: HOW do we proceed better?

  • The "how" is always a question of form is what I have tried to demonstrate here;
  • I tried to explain that in art, and only there, can it be taught, the significance form studied with the new possibilities that can always arise from it.

Of course, hardly any of the so-called experts from business, science or politics will agree with this. They will all be quick to speak of alienation from reality in this respect. This is not surprising because it has been completely unfamiliar till now to involve artistic thinking in questions of shaping society.

But the fact that since the early warning of the “Club of Rome” in 1975, nothing has changed for the better at all, quite the opposite, everything has changed for the worse and about 45 years have been wasted solely for the benefit of the economy and a claim to prosperity without limits, that is, likewise without form. One would have to refrain from the accusation and instead denounce the unworldliness of art for the unworldliness of economy.

Art is always the form that is closest to the truth of reality and is therefore not unworldly.

Here there would be the possibility of art and science joining forces, in which both combine their characteristics and make new thinking possible. Quite Kandinsky’s way of thinking, whose letter to Schönberg I quoted in the previous essay: "the kinship of dissonance in art....". Dissonance is the "consonance of tomorrow"! It should serve a new freedom in formation.

Without the connection between art and science, the climate goals will never be achieved. Because we cannot find an answer to HOW we can agree. We can't find a common form and we disintegrate everything through dogmatism and the inevitable dispute that results from it. It is only necessary to take the seemingly senseless step of using art as a creative force in society that cannot be circumvented!

At least, this was the idea and wish of the founding fathers of the art academies in Germany. Here is a text source on the founding of one of the oldest academies, in Munich. Its first Secretary General was none other than the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775 - 1854).

On 13th May 1808, the Academy of Fine Arts was founded in Munich under King Max I Joseph. It was to be a "real public authority in matters of the arts", at the same time a thoroughly liberal art society, in which "the spirit of freedom and progress would be kept alive"... that it would be open to students of all nationalities... to have the relationship of the arts to public life in view was an essential obligation... The Secretary General was to be a scholar (scientist!) who could guarantee the connection of the arts to the "age"...

Quoted from: F. W. J. Schelling, Texte zur Philosophie der Kunst; Edited by Werner Beierwaltes, p. 3; Stuttgart 1982; P. Reclam No. 5777 (4).

Our present-day art academies are by no means guided by this theory. There, one cultivates the "authentic" of each individual artist, in an understanding of fidelity to oneself. A completely wrong view, because the authentic is always bound to the communicative: not I, but the other. Not fidelity to oneself. Because that is impossible.

Van Gogh The Weaver

Vincent Van Gogh, „The Weaver“, 1884; oil on canvas, 67.7 x 93.2cm; Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München

Van Gogh worked as a trained art dealer in London. He was so disturbed by the fact that he usually had to sell poor quality works to customers just for the sake of making money that he gave up his profession in moral despair and trained as a preacher of the Christian message in his home country. He was increasingly preoccupied with questions of Christian social ethics within the spread of purely industrially oriented work processes. The impoverishment of people working for their existence made him restless. Thus moved, he wanted to bring the light of the Christian message to the people underground, especially in the mines of the Borinage. In his extensive written work, especially letters to his brother Theo, which occupies an important place in European literature, he repeatedly expressed the distress that spreads among people from the loss of “brotherhood”.

Under this impression, he created the work "The Potato Eaters" (in three versions) for the modern age as an example of the image of the "Last Supper". Incidentally, he was the only artist to date to paint a still life with the Bible at its centre.

"The Weaver" shows the working man who works not only for himself but for others. The dark parlour, with its brightly lit window, offers a view of the farmer's wife struggling to find food in the field. The Christian church appears as the third actor in the picture behind the farmer's wife. At this point I would like to remind you of what I explained about the very special significance of the background layer of a picture by example of Leonardo da Vinci's work in the previous essay.

In the New Testament it is written: "Each one bear the other's burden." In this way he fulfills the law that Christ gave us. (Galatians 6:2). It is not I myself who should bear the burden, but my brother/sister in mankind.

© Martin Rabe & Sibylle Laubscher