I have an article in this month’s Odyssey magazine about PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, a group that uses (you guessed it) laptops to make music.
I don’t find it very interesting.
Artists have always used technology to make art – from the technology of colored paint in the caves of France thousands of years ago to the technologies of cell phones, laptops, and YouTube today. While the art might be interesting for art’s sake (or it might not be), I don’t see that the use of technology is intrinsically interesting in itself.
This particular issue of Odyssey is all about the connection between science and art. As this is a subject I think about a lot, you might think I’d find something worthwhile in the issue.
I really don’t.
Here’s why: I think the traditional approach to exploring the supposed interface between art and science is misguided. It turns science into a mere sidelight, not the point. So sure, there’s a ton of science in how a clarinet works, but that’s not the interesting thing about a clarinet. The interesting thing is that when a great clarinetist plays, she can make you think of a beautiful spring day, a person crying in anguish, a mischevious cat (think Peter and the Wolf), or the quiet sadness of unrequited love.
Linking the science of how the air moves in the clarinet is a bit of a cheat. It’s taking something inherently interesting and trying to link your (by implication) uninteresting topic to it. It reminds me of how vegetables are often named after things that taste a lot better than vegetables. Butternut squash. Beefsteak tomatoes. Buttercrunch lettuce. The science of the clarinet.
Instead of the science of art, I’m interested in the art of science. Copenhagen isn’t science. It’s a play about science, scientists, and the worlds they create for themselves. An amazing play.
When Neil de Grasse Tyson talks about supernovas and the stuff that makes us, he isn’t doing science. His subject is science, but his performance is art. He inspires. de Grasse Tyson is an artist. An amazing performer.
When They Might Be Giants sing “Science is Real” they aren’t doing science. They are singing about the joy, wonder, and beauty they’ve found in understanding something about the world. Amazing musicians.
For many years, science has tried to glom on to the arts, like a beefsteak tomato. What I’m much more interested in is the idea that art might start to look to science, and find there a subject worthy in its own right of artistic interpretation.