• On the Relationship between Art & Science | Part II

On the Relationship between Art & Science | Part II

(Note from the author: I have used the feminine throughout this text to balance out the German which uses the masculine. In this way both pronouns are used but not to the detriment of the reading experience.)

First of all, I would like to give my esteemed readers the necessary hint that this newsletter is a direct continuation of the previous one. Therefore I recommend reading it again, especially the conclusion. There I arrived at the picture of how art and the modern natural sciences henceforth sit "at the same desk.” From this the question can arise whether they would continue to refuse to talk to each other even when placed together, or perhaps be taught better, turn to new horizons mutually fertilizing each other? This is what now concerns me in this essay.  

Something that strikes me almost daily in all questions and arguments regarding the shaping of our societies is that the arts are excluded from such conversations. They do not seem to be part of it, although it is precisely in the exercise of them that the individual is closer to herself, that is, to her self, than in any other endeavour. Nowhere does she learn so much about herself as in the creation of art! Here she shows herself as a creative being, which creates itself anew in every work of art. In doing so she practices a kind of spiritual anarchism: always ready to drop everything that has gone before and, as it were, start anew from zero in order to turn to something more perfect and thus "lead life to the better" (Kant).

Art is made by people for people and not for art fairs, the art market, nor for museums, galleries, collectors and media.

The artistic power of man as the formative power of her reason is located in the middle between the perceptive power of her senses and the power to conceptualize of her intellect.

  • the perceptive power of the senses
  • art as formative power of reason
  • the power to conceptualise understanding

Reason, in turn, is the mother of responsibility: it gives answers that are appropriate, always depending on the situation, very close and aiming at freedom. Therefore, neither art nor responsibility can be assigned to a purpose. But this is precisely what gives it the stigma of uselessness. So that which is its best power, to create forms of freedom, is twisted into a snare, just as is also done with the beautiful (not to be confused with beauty): it is only appearance and therefore nothing solid and useful. One does not even realize that the appearance of beauty is never deceptive, but makes people shine as "the crowning glory of nature" ("The Creation", oratorio by Joseph Hayden, 1732 - 1809). Neurologists have long since confirmed that people cannot survive without the beautiful.

I am convinced that the all encompassing climate debate will lead nowhere without the participation of people's artistic power. The point here is, after all, to prevent us from destroying the earth given to us and thus ourselves. It is only about us, not about the earth, but about our behaviour towards it. Therefore, we must be very close to ourselves in order to gain necessary knowledge from within ourselves for this purpose. As explained before, we are closest to ourselves in art. But the debate is dominated by the striving for power primarily from the sphere of economy. Without art, this can only go wrong, because we cannot win the hearts of people in this way. But we have to reach them, because only in this way can people experience and understand what it is all about.

After these introductory thoughts, which I will take up again at the end of this essay, I would like to return to "art and natural science", which met at the same desk, stand in front of the same phenomena, asking after reality? To discover reality art begins with ideas, ends quite materially in the made, haptic work of art and shows its own new reality. Natural science starts from the given material world and formulates ideas of a new reality. Both face each other suspiciously across a seemingly insurmountable wall.

I would like to give you as an example the writing of the physicist Max Planck (1858 - 1947), considered a founder of quantum theory for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1918. In later years he devoted himself more and more to philosophical and religious topics as well as, as a trained musician, to questions of music theory concerning the tonal difference between natural and tempered tuning (lat. temperare = to mix in the sense of to moderate, to soften: to mix some intervals in a tempered way, e.g. J. S. Bach "Das wohltemperierte Klavier"). As a naturalist, he was convinced that both natural science and religion (what opposites!!) are necessary for human life. They should not be separated. In his writing from the year 1937 "Religion and Natural Science", he confesses: "Man needs natural science to recognize, he needs religion to act" (Leipzig 1938, p. 331 - 332).

Max Planck
Max Planck (Source: Universetoday.com)

"In contrast to this [the methodology of religious man], the only primary given for the natural scientist is the content his perception using his senses and the measurements derived from it. From there he seeks, by way of inductive research, [inductive research starts from an observed event in order to derive a general statement from it, up to a theory] God and his world order as the highest, eternally attainable goal to approach if possible. If therefore both, religion and natural science, need faith in God for their confirmation, then God stands for the one at the beginning, for the other at the end of all thinking. For the one it means the foundation, for the other the crown of the construction of every world view ...

The most perfect harmony and with it the strictest causality culminates in any case in the assumption of an ideal spirit, which sees through both the working of the forces of nature and the processes in the spiritual life of man down to the most individual and finest in the present, past and future."

Planck shows how faith (religion) and knowledge (natural science) do not pursue anything opposite according to their nature. He demonstrates the desirable union, something quite different to religion being "opium of the people" (the quotation is almost always misrepresented - as "religion is opium for the people"), as Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) asserts in the introduction of his writing: "On Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" (1843/44), in which he tries to trace religion back to the political conditions of society, respectively that religion developed out of society and is not carried into society from the outside, for example by the teaching of the church.
The Nobel Prize winner for physics, Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976), who developed the work of Planck further, holds onto these thought in principle speaking in this context not of God, but of an existing "central order". Both show that the separation of faith and knowledge cannot exist.

The artist now builds between the pole of belief and knowledge, the bridge of imagination. Compared to knowledge, it is boundless, thus aiming at the freedom of man and is far superior to knowledge in its limitations.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.), who had already posed all questions relevant to humanity in a valid and thus binding manner for up to our time, made a practical proposal concerning the relationship between gods (religion) and humanity, which is always striving for self-acquired knowledge (science). He divided creation into two areas: one lies in the dark behind the moon and the other is visible for people in the bright area illuminated by the sun. In the dark area everything could happen that is the will of the gods. People should occupy themselves within the bright area in front of the moon giving free rein to their thirst for knowledge.

In the English language this separation has apparently lived on. In English we distinguish between "sky" and "heaven". In "heaven" the gods rule, in the "sky" the intelligence of humanity researches (this is not the case in the German language. There the word for sky and heaven are the same.)

But Christianity put a stop to this relationship and the freedoms flowing from it. The church father Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.) in his work "Confessions and the State of God" taught the so-called "Curiositas Prohibition", the prohibition of curiosity. Individuals should not strive for more knowledge than they need for their personal lives. Anything further would exceed the applicable moderation and thus be ungodly. For Augustine this prohibition meant fighting against the ancient philosophy. For artists, primarily sculptors, it meant the end of the ancient canon of forms and the prohibition of depictions of unclothed human bodies. The study of the human figure ceased and with it new knowledge about humankind.

It was not until the 17th century, above all through Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642) that the curiositas was rejected and human curiosity was again fully affirmed.

You can see from the example of religion and natural science that on the one hand the separation of both is not correct and on the other hand that it took centuries to recognize this error. However, it was not corrected for a long time. On the contrary!

Like a seemingly unsuppressible legacy, something still remains from Aristotle's proposal today: an unavoidable curiosity about what "is behind a thing" (the dark side of the moon!). So intuitively we always want to look beyond the horizon to see what comes after! We climb a mountain and as if by itself the question possesses us: what might now be behind the next mountain? And then behind that one, the one after and the next and so on. It is the background layer that magically attracts us, making us curious, driving our power of imagination. The imagination as the driving force of curiosity!

In our folk tales, this is often represented as a door that must not be opened, what lies behind it must not be revealed.

Alongside this, a negative variant of background curiosity also arose: the sphere of "rumour". There is nothing provably true about it. The only true thing about a rumour is the fact that it spreads. Today it appears in the garb of conspiracy theories and the like! But it satisfies our healthy restless search for what hides behind a thing in dark way.


This search for the background layer has led, since Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), to important revolutionary developments in painting: the discovery of space whose background he made the carrier of content only to be found by the viewer. The face of his famous "Mona Lisa" (ca. 1503 -06) thus forms only the secondary foreground for a much more important project: the invention of a new way of painting the background (sfumato = smoke; from sfumare = to tone down; serves the aerial perspective and makes objects appear paler, bluer and more blurred: depth!). From now on, the background should have neither a real nor an ideal being, but only a being for the viewer! Rendered freely, "science" in art arises for Leonardo alone in the contemplating spirit of the human being, which puts itself freely in relation to the work. When the spirit is filled in such a way, the execution of the work (the haptic nature of art) would spring with its new form-formed reality, exceeding the science of contemplation in quality by far.

Rockgrotto Madonna, Leonardo da Vinci
"Rock Grotto Madonna" (detail).
Leonardo da Vinci ca. 1480, Louvre, Paris
Source: Leonardo, Pro Arte,
Schuler Publishing Company Munich

A particularly impressive example in this respect is the painting "Rock Grotto Madonna" (ca. 1480, Louvre, Paris). The dark grotto in the background includes a glimpse into the light, into the open, thus creating the central theme of the picture: not the Madonna, but the interpenetration of heaven and earth, or rather the secret of the connection between natural existence and symbolic expression: "painted beauty", as Leonardo himself describes it.

Behind constant curiosity, a driving force in humankind, for what leads beyond a thing or is behind a thing, stands nothing else than the search of each individual for herself. Who am I? No conclusive answer has yet been found. We probably know a lot about ourselves by now, but in reality we know nothing! In spite of all science and modern research we still don’t know how a piece of matter must be constituted in order that a human being, conscious of herself, can move this matter out of herself, as every human being does it with her body (birth). What happens there is the actual secret of life. It is the central question about the background, which Augustine and religion were and are seldom interested in clarifying and the reason why religion and science are so inhumanly opposed to each other despite the findings of Planck, Heisenberg and the many other physicists at the beginning of the 20th century.

If with Aristotle I named an individual who showed a path to free spiritual development of humanity and with the example of Augustine an individual who caused the denial of this essential human desire for 1000 years and again with Planck and Heisenberg together appearing as spirit openers, then I would like to now show an example of an epochal event from art where two quite different disciplines found to each other, namely painting and music.

Their differences lie first of all in their very nature. To explain this, I must also include the third discipline, literature. The written word remains most closely attached to the material in its work: language and writing. Painting, on the other hand, can remain very closely connected to the material, for example in the form of a nature study, but it can also distance itself very far from it, by turning away from nature towards abstraction, in which only a so-called "residual natural" remains. Music, on the other hand, has nothing material at all that could tie it to the material world. It has an instrumental character, occurs purely mentally (like geometry and mathematics) and must form its material, its nature, out of itself: Scale, triad, polyphony, etc. Because of the uniquely different material character of each of these three, the great dream of the many artists never succeeded: the total work of art, which connects word, picture and sound.

I am writing about the meeting of Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866 - 1944) and Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg (1874 - 1951).
On January 2, 1911, Kandinsky, together with Franz Marc, Gabriele Münther, Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky, among others, attended the concert of a Viennese composer unknown to him, Arnold Schönberg. Kandinsky was so deeply and enthusiastically moved by his new "atonal music" (= free of previously valid musical compositional laws) that he subsequently painted his famous "Impression III (Concert)".


Impression III, Kandinsky
Impression III (Concert) 1911, Wassily Kandinsky

First of all, it should be clarified how Kandinsky distinguishes the "Impression" from an "Improvisation". At the beginning of abstract painting it was not at all easy for artists to give paintings, which had become non-representational, an object-related title. Therefore Kandinsky called some pictures "Impressions", in which he tries to reproduce the direct impression of the outer nature, and also the title "Improvisation", in which impressions received from the inner nature are processed to a composition.
About the picture: The concert grand piano, clearly recognizable in its representational black surface, seems to float weightlessly. Around him lies a yellow surface, which acts like a sound space, serves the music and penetrates into the implied audience. They seem to be magically attracted by the musical dynamics.

At the same time, he spontaneously addressed Schönberg in a detailed letter that has gone down in the history of art. In it he opened a debate on the content, in which he put forward theses of the "relationship of dissonances!! in art". Kandinsky was a trained cello player who knew what he was talking about. Dissonance was the "consonance of tomorrow" and its "antigeometric, antilogical harmony and construction." Dissonance should serve a "new freedom" in artistic design. Franz Marc was equally enthusiastic and saw a correspondence between this new music and Kandinsky's paintings. An extensive correspondence and close friendship began between Kandinsky and Schoenberg. Schoenberg continued his own painterly experiments more intensively, and Kandinsky and Marc were eager to have Schoenberg collaborate on the "Almanac of the Blue Rider." "Schoenberg's music introduces us to a new realm where musical experiences are not acoustic, but purely mental. This is where the music of the future begins." ("On the Spiritual in Art," Bern, 1952, p. 49)

Kandinsky was fascinated by "hearing" colours and "seeing" sounds. Here lies the root of his demand that the new art emerges from the "inner sound" of a human being moved to the depths of her soul.

There is much more that could be said about this. But I only wanted to give a further highly important example how epochally fruitful the resolution of opposites, even dissonances, can be, creating new world views, in order to go from there to answer the central question posed at the beginning: why art and natural science, who are sitting at the same desk, do not unite to form a likewise new world view? This would be possible, probably even necessary for the survival of mankind.

In order to attempt an answer I could give this the title: "The crisis of sciences and art", because both are hit by the same reproach of not making an effort to find common ground. Why not?

In this context the preference plays a role. Today the sciences mainly handle questions that can be decided unambiguously. In doing so, one accepts to recognize only such questions as scientific questions, about which an unambiguous, methodically controllable understanding is possible. No dissonances please! But the predominant number of problems and the questions and necessary solutions which people have been confronted with since the beginning of time till today, and are becoming more and more vital, are just the questions which cannot be decided unambiguously.

Looking back on the experience of the past, a question arises: is it correct that natural science, technology and economy alone determine the image of reality in modern society in a purely scientific way and that all non-scientific, non-technical, non-economic questions are thus degraded to mere theoretical questions, which as such have only secondary importance for the reality of society and thus for the people in this society? Are questions of morality, ethics, religion, historical tradition, questions about human self-understanding and the right behaviour only subjective and irrelevant for the concept of reality? Do they disturb the well-ordered course straight ahead into a digitalized, purely technical-economic oriented society?

By intentionally or unintentionally interlocking natural research with the economy and politics in this way, science has visibly developed economically, that is, it looks to success, striving for material value creation and growth. No more steerable, at the mercy of the inherent momentum in economy, the natural sciences form superstructures, which the "producers" – meaning the scientists! - watch powerlessly.

The emerging questions about the meaning and goal of science are suddenly no longer questions of these sciences. But questions about humankind and the setting of priorities for research must not be answered by the sciences alone. If the former are philosophical, ideological or at best artistic questions, the latter are political-ethical questions. The sciences left their former location, that of a very special area of the world of work ordered by the division of labour. Today they provide the fundamental constituting forms for all forms of social activities, focussing above all on profitable techniques right up to human techniques. The scientification of our lives is our greatest error and dilemma.

Unfortunately, artists and above all the art market also allowed themselves to be caught up in this demonstration of material value creation, growth and striving for success, which was increasingly opening up to economic interests. Through a hidden constant orientation towards purpose, the arts lost their artistic power to almost purely economic striving and media presence.

In the course of this, the form-giving power of the arts was lost and forgotten. Therefore they were no longer required and so forgotten! This is enormously damaging, because progress originates within the human being and not just from scientific techniques. Almost all current problems in society are pure problems of form!

My final plea:
In order to give the survival of mankind a decisive chance, the formative powers of the arts must be awakened again and taught in an obligatory manner. To do this, we would have to give the academies of the arts back their original mission and teaching and literally free them from the fatal arbitrariness that dominates everything today. So art against the climate catastrophe? Yes!

The threatening catastrophe was not brought about by the arts, but by the sciences! And the same thinking that produced this catastrophe – the sciences – which ignited this threatening scenario, is supposed to rescue us, to succeed, only now we must make everything more "correct" and above all more responsible to humans, of whom we, I explained earlier, actually know nothing? It will never succeed. We have observed this for some time.

From this increasingly economic interests opening show from material creation of value, growth and success striving, the artists and above all the art market let themselves unfortunately also catch. Through a hidden constant orientation to purpose, they lost their artistic power to almost purely economic striving and media presence.
In the course of this, the form-giving power was lost and forgotten from the arts. Therefore they were no longer needed and forgotten! This is an enormous damage, because progress originates in the human being itself and just not from scientific techniques. Almost all current problems in the society are almost always pure form problems!

What we need is a completely different, new way of thinking that leads to a new consciousness. We have to reach people's hearts and thus enable them to understand their life situation and the sciences. To this end, the arts, as a matter of priority, can set a decisive course, if we succeed in grasping them again as a natural force of every human being.

As utopian, even unrealistic as all this may sound, I would like to name a natural scientist and universal scholar as a witness for my proposal. None other than Galileo Galilei. Probably no other historical personality is so exemplary for the step from Christian influenced Middle Ages to the liberated thinking of a new world view and at the same time victim of ecclesiastical violence in not being allowed to represent his new thinking publicly.
Galileo Galilei
Portrait of Galileo Galilei
by Justus Sustermans
(Antwerp 1597 - Florence 1681)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Drawings of the Moon, Galileo
Drawings of the Moon, November-December 1609

On November 30, 1609, through his homemade telescope, he saw something amazing: the moon appeared to be very uneven, and Galileo was able to capture this in watercolour paintings because he was a skilled watercolourist. He painted the moon in six phases as never seen before, marked by mountain ranges and valleys. He combined the sections of the moon, which could only be captured piecemeal by the telescope, to a whole. He published these "images" in 1610 in his book titled: "Sidereus Nuncius" (Star Messenger). The sensation: it turned out that the moon was by no means as perfectly formed as had been assumed till then. This made him famous throughout Europe.

Thus Galileo as his own, even single-handed producer of moon pictures becomes an artist in the tradition of the Renaissance painting with its principles of "Disegno" and "Concetto". Disegno, meaning to be able to represent something in outline and thus to show the basis of each work of art as an artistic idea. Concetto, meaning the competition between idea and execution. In order to learn these skills, the Duke Cosimo I de Medici, founded the "Accademia del Disegno", Florence in 1563. It was the first step towards the establishment of art academies in Europe.

Finally, another witness, who opened new world views 300 years before Galileo by visualizing nature as a landscape space: Francesco Petrarch (1304 - 1374) from Arezzo, one of the founders of Renaissance humanism with the following words:

"Little art,
of books much,
that is the fool's sacrilegious game."

Werner Heisenberg repeatedly pointed out that modern natural research must refer back to Goethe's foundations.

And Goethe (1749 – 1832) expressed the matter as follows: "If we expect a kind of wholeness from it, we must necessarily think of science as art." ("Materialien zur Geschichte der Farbenlehre," in the section: "Betrachtungen über Farbenlehre und Farbbehandlung der Alten"; so: Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften, 2nd volume, page 73.)

By the way: the perfect measure of wholeness is the human being.

Finally, I would like to offer to continue this essay in order to answer the question of how art academies would have to be reformed again and what they could contribute to the climate debate. I welcome feedback from you, my dear reader, would you be interested?

© Martin Rabe & Sibylle Laubscher