Thursday 21 October 2021

The difference between art and science.

What is the difference between art and science?
I don't have any definitive answer on this subject, but I have given it some thought over the last few years and I believe some indication on the nature of the problem, or its solution, can be found in the direction I will outline in the rest of this text.
Without going into the lengthy debates surrounding the philosophy of science, it doesn't seem too far a stretch to stay that the natural sciences strive towards an ever greater unifying knowledge. Art on the other hand always undermines a common narrative that isn't its own. Speaking in Venn diagrams, the natural sciences aim to have ever greater overlap with the sphere of all knowable things in the universe, while art is always the little circle that wants to lie just beyond it. 
It's perfectly possible to imagine a world where 'science' has uncovered 'all' knowledge and understanding about the world. However, in such a world art will seize to exist by necessity. When all given possibilities will be known, no possibilities can be unexpected or lie outside a norm, and thus all possible artworks will be predictable in advance.
So while at the present time artists and scientists seem to behave in a similar manner because they are constantly searching for 'new' knowledge and viewpoints, the reason why they do so is antithetical. For science wishes to accumulate ever greater and more complete understanding, its ultimate (and likely impossible) goal being a full comprehension of all totality. Art on the other hand can only exist by the grace of unknown knowledge. A discovery made within art can't be used again for similar purposes, while a discovery made in science can find an infinite number of applications. 

PK = Possible Knowledge, Sc = Science, CM = Common Methodologies, A = Art

An oft-claimed shared characteristic between art and science is that both attempt to gain new knowledge by forming ideas about the world and then testing those ideas to find new solutions. Which is true, but also trivial. It can very easily be argued that this is a likewise valid statement for mutating bacteria, a tree growing a new branch or a crow opening a box. As Karl Popper has all ready stated, 'all life is problem solving'. While forming, and testing, hypotheses is a common characteristic of art and science, this is ultimately irrelevant because it is true for a great number of other things as well.
To further illustrate the different ways in which art and science employ (technical) knowledge we can take a look at the work of Joost Conijn, a Dutch artist who amongst other things built his own functional airplane. This airplane can be considered art in a world where the common knowledge about airplanes is that they are complex machines that require lots of sophisticated machinery and a crew of people to engineer, build and operate. In other words, it is because we don't think of airplanes as something that is made by a single person in their shed that such an homemade airplane can be considered an artwork. This is notwithstanding the simple fact that the knowledge Conijn employed is common scientific knowledge and this knowledge was gained through similar do-it-yourself methods in the early days of aero engineering. 
In our Venn diagram, this would be an example of the overlap between art and science, even if it can also be seen that the scientific knowledge employed here has little practical use in contemporary society. Generally speaking, the science employed within art is either an outdated version of well-established phenomena, or theories that are too esoteric to be universally accepted. 

These ideas are far from an immovable theory, but I think that it nevertheless can provide some guidance on where the differences between the disciplines could be found.