‘Abstract Art Digs Deeper’
‘Abstract Art Digs Deeper’ is the title of this blog as I set about investigating the interface between art and archaeology. So what does ‘interface’ mean?
So far, the definitions I have found go like this:- a surface forming a common boundary between adjacent regions; a point at which independent systems or diverse groups interact; the area shared by two or more fields of study; an interconnection between systems, equipment, concepts or people.
In other words, my interest is in locating the intersecting ground between these two disciplines and exploring their shared features. Why? Because I think that there is a lot in common between the artist and the archaeologist.
Initially this sounds a little unlikely as the artist and the scientist are considered by contemporary decision makers to be mutually exclusive. Why should this be the case? There have certainly been plenty of people in the past who have managed to embrace both art and science, and make valuable contributions to both. Leonardo da Vinci would be a good case in point. A brief glance at his notebooks will show how he did not separate one area of study from another, or desist from pursuing an interest because it was not ‘arty’ enough. Instead he seemed to see all areas of study as worthy of his attention. The practical problems he encountered in the making of a painting were on the same level as the practical problems he sought to solve in connection with designing machinery to enable human flight. And both his art and his science relied on acute observation of facts and details.
Could it be that our education system has had a part to play in the current perceptions that we have? Are we not actively encouraged to think that it is not possible for one person to be both a scientist and an artist? Could it be argued that our children are expected to define themselves as either art-based or science-based at far too early a point in their education? Wouldn’t it lead to a richer experience of education, and a richer vein of future achievement for society to mine, if we encouraged young people to achieve competence in both sectors, pursue both strands where possible, rather than force a decision towards one or the other?
Perhaps the problem is that we are taught that art is to do with imagination, whereas science is to do with facts. Yet scientists need imagination as part of their professional toolkits, and this goes for archaeologists in particular. Without imagination, new vaccines would never be found, new areas of technology never investigated, new planets never discovered, and many of the myriad of mysteries that science inevitably throws up would never be explained. As for archaeologists, we would know nothing about our deep human past if informed imagination had not been exercised by those who excavated and analysed ancient and prehistoric sites. Imagination is not just the preserve of the arts.
And imagination is not the only ingredient that goes into making art. Most artists research before they make. Whether it’s to do with ancient history, social history, art history, contemporary culture, or the physical and chemical properties of materials and supports, research allows the artist to do what they do as well as they can. Research involving the discovering of facts is also important in the refuelling of the imagination, in the overcoming of boundaries, in the opening up of new areas of interest, in the bringing together of apparently divergent subject areas, all of which are important to the artist.
Going back to Leonardo, Michael White’s book ‘Leonardo, the First Scientist’ closes with a very appropriate passage.
“As I have emphasised, I believe Leonardo was certainly a scientist, but to accept this one must allow for a broader interpretation of what the word ‘science’ means, and many are unwilling to do so. To me, science is exploration, it is questioning, it is the application of imagination, it is analysis. … What he lacked in mathematical skills he made up for with his genius as an artist. For although mathematics is a tool for the scientist and used to manipulate information, it is also employed as a means to express ideas, to portray concepts, to illustrate principles.’ (p 329)
I must admit that my mathematical prowess leaves much to be desired, but if science is exploring and questioning and analysing, then there is more of the scientist in me than I’d realised!
What do you, the scientist, think? Do you perceive the use of imagination in your work? Or are you more inclined to think that art and science are completely different, and should remain at opposite ends of the spectrum? Or are you an archaeologist, and feel that your work is not only science, but allows for more ‘art’ skills, techniques and perceptions? I’d love to have your response!