art upsets science reassures

art upsets science reassures

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art upsets science reassures

‘Art upsets, science reassures’ (Braque) Analyse and evaluate this claim.

The difference between; reality and fantasy, an accurate representation of what is, and a brilliant orchestration of the mind, can often become blurred with the paintbrush of an artist. Yet, as Braque would surely agree, there are certain areas knowledge that only serve to reify our reality, saving us from delving into the fantastic chasm of questions arising from art. This specific area is of course science. One can often become lost in art, in a never ending series of inquiries as to how such a sculpture or painting could be physically possible. Although, science will reassure us as to what is possible and what will remain limited to a picture, or expression of thought or questioning. To evaluate Braque’s claim one must look to art, and the aspects thereof, that defy and upset nature and natural science. Next, the process by which science can reassure ‘what is’, as opposed to a representation of the artistic. And last, what the reassurance of science, as well as, the nature of art entail in their representational and informative nature.

Art itself has proven throughout time to confuse many, all of the thoughts by the creators seem to be in the slightest way manipulative of that which every person would think scientifically so. Dance and the Theater, a place where art has flourished, is an example of how deceit and manipulation have manifested themselves in an art form that is revered, and held to be a distinguishing skill; acting. Seeing the ghost of Oedipus come back to haunt his children, is something that is far beyond what anyone has experienced in reality, and instills in individuals a mystical image of what could be. Or, the people indigenous to North America performing dances in attempt to cause rain, and perhaps an occasional rainfall to follow, only serves to upset the theories of natural science. These are both examples of what art has done to upset the view that one has on the way things work. Not everyone sees their dead father return in a pale, luminescent mist to speak to them, yet, Shakespearean actors would make us think otherwise. It may be thought that this form of art would only serve as a method of human expression, and would actually be pure and true in revealing something about human nature, but this is not necessarily the case.

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This art form still is only a means to upset what natural science has supported extensively (e.g. that rain comes from processes that occur naturally and randomly). Confusion still comes about when the meteorology and earth sciences tell us that performing a dance has nothing to do with a rainstorm coming about. Furthermore, even if the intent of the art work is to reveal something about humans, or to deliver any kind of message, the message might not necessarily be interpreted by the individual in the way it was intended. The social science of psychology tells us that each individual has a different perception of complex messages, such as those offered by a theatrical performance, only proving that the art has served as a way to upset a person’s interpretation by saying that it is wrong. Thus it is that a problem of knowledge when dealing with the arts is the interpretation of the arts by others Though this form of art may be upsetting enough, there are still many illustrations to ponder and induce discomfort. Lionel Penrose developed a work of art that was and is constantly an upsetting image. This image was of the impossible staircase (appendix 1). This disturbing image, as based on our visual system, seems to be a constantly descending (or ascending) staircase. The would be end point reconvenes with the point at where we visually began, when tracking the staircase, and proceeds to ascend or descend another level, depending on how it is looked upon. Not only does this prove to be a physical impossibility, but a tedious chore for the mind. Everything that this staircase suggests defies reality, and goes against all that is known in the third dimension. The same is true for the impossible triangle (appendix 2), developed by Roger Penrose, son of Lionel. It is in a shape that makes it physically impossible to create in the three dimensional world. The beams of the triangle simultaneously appear to recede and come toward you. Yet, somehow, they meet in an impossible configuration! It is difficult to conceive how the various parts can fit together as a real three-dimensional object, and yet it exists in the art of humanity. Some would say that these works of art are explainable through dimensional theory and extensive analysis, but this still does not deny how upsetting the concepts these pictures present. The mere fact that you require such an explanation to understand these models only supports Braque’s position on art, and shows a problem surrounding the ways of knowing when it comes to the area of the arts.

The explanation of arts is what we see as most reassuring, even if it takes a method that is not traditionally associated with the arts. Science is not usually in the forefront of one’s mind when viewing a work of art, yet there is explanation for some of art’s implications through science, and refutation of some of the implications of art, on reality. With the example of the impossible triangle, one could understand the reason behind why we interpret it as impossible, or what the constraints of our visual system have if it is explained scientifically. The triangle exists in the second dimension, but when placed into the third dimension (which is what our brains try to do once it is viewed) simply can not happen when realistically applied. Moreover, our visual system is constrained by how it interprets two-dimensional pictorial images into three-dimensional mental representations. It is with the help of such constraints that your visual system assigns depth to each point in an image. Furthermore, "it is more important for your visual system to adhere to these constraints than to violate them because you have encountered something that is paradoxical, unusual, or inconsistent. It would lead to biological disaster if you were blind to the unusual, inconsistent, or paradoxical" (Seckel). This kind of scientific explanation shows the reassurance that only can be offered by science itself, rather than a confusing image produced by an artist. Not only is the science of biology part of this explanation, but dimensional theory as well. Another example of science’s reassurance can come with experimentation. When Sir Isaac Newton sat beside an apple tree, and was struck by a falling apple; we see today, when we are holding an object, then let go when there is nothing between it and the ground but five feet of unoccupied space, we see the scientific support for the theory of gravity. This kind of reassurance is exactly what Braque is suggesting art cannot definitively support, due to the processes that science endures it is seen as a more legitimate and trustworthy method of assurance.

Although art may upset, and science may reassure, this does not necessarily imply that one could do the other and vice versa. The paintings that comes from Latina artist Frida Khalo are self portraits that do not romanticize her image at all. She shows herself to be just as she was, with ridged facial features, and even facial hair. Or, Pablo Picasso’s early works; violent depiction’s of war in his time. It is this kind of art that reassures people of a reality, that she was not an overwhelmingly attractive female, or that war was a place of sorrow and death, not victory and triumph. Again there is the issue of perception on behalf of the person viewing this art, and how they interpret the work. Though, with art of this nature, one does not have to deal with metaphors, or abstract concepts, the picture is straight forward, telling what is, not what is subjective. As for science, there is an ever present tendency to have an occasion where the theories are indescribably upsetting. It has been my personal experience that quantum physics will offer many explanations with extraordinarily complex, and/or incomplete justification. How can I really be right here, and over there all at the same time? Quantum physics holds the answer that most likely does have justification, yet, that justification is not entirely useful or valid.

The views on art only further prove its subjectivity, and how it can never be as reassuring as science. From the Native people of Bali who claim not to have art at all, that they merely try to do things the best they can, and not toil with the unnecessary troubles of art, to the masters of the Japanese Noh, a drama that is entirely dependent on music as well as choreography (two examples of representational art). There is a wide variety of opinion and lack of continuity regarding artistic concepts, yet science seems to find a way to transcend this subjectivity. The notions of eastern scientists, regarding the geometry as not absolute, but rather an intellectual construction holds true with such teachings as that of Ashvaghosh (an ancient Buddhist teacher) of space being a mode of particularization and how it exists only in relation to our particularizing consciousness (Capra). Science can reassure because its axioms exist in nature, where art will eternally be left up to individual interpretation. Braque does indeed show us how art can truly be upsetting, while leaving the reassurance to a reliable natural given that we find in science.


Capra, Fritjof. The Tao of Physics (New York , Bantam Books, 1975).

Seckel, Al, 1997.
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