Sunday, April 23, 2006

she will be bound with garlands of her own

Lablit.com editor Jennifer Rohn, writing about a science/art project at CERN, says:

[Physicist Rolf] Landua is a firm believer in the power of art to help science, namely when it serves as PR.

Which says to me the project is bound to disappoint, and at best be wildly inefficient. We've had a conversation recently on lablit about the expectation that young scientists must produce, chop-chop, or leave the bench, and why young writers aren't treated the same way. Neurograd wrote:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but writing students pay their own tuition for the most part, right? So, if someone is willing to shell out the $150k for a writing degree, I would say that's their prerogative, and if they want/need to take longer to finish that degree, then so be it. But if I were a professor, department, or funding agency and I were paying for a student's tuition (plus a stipend to boot), I would expect that a reasonable level of productivity should be maintained.

Add that sense of responsibility to funding to a sense that people will be much friendlier to science if only they understand it, and I think there's a slow train wreck waiting to happen in any such sci/art programs.

I don't know that the scientists involved understand this is not work with reliable freelancers, people who get a contract and feel obliged to turn out a certain kind of product. That there's no knowing what an artist might do with exposure to science that's meant to enlighten them and turn them into champions. Yes, you might get something useful as PR out of it, though if it's any good it's unlikely it'll be useful PR for anything. It might also be entirely irrelevant to CERN or whatever other agency is involved; it might be openly hostile to the agency's projects; it might deeply misinterpret the work.

I think these projects are best off involving artists already seriously interested in science and philosophy of science. Even then, PR, no, the work's not likely to be PR. A helpful complication, maybe.

The poem is Keats' "On the Sonnet":
If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,
And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd
By ear industrious, and attention meet;
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
Jealous of dead leaves in the bay-wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
She will be bound with garlands of her own.

2 comments:

Jennifer Rohn said...

Just a clarification about my piece on art in CERN on LabLit.com. Landua was not implying that the Young Scientists@CERN was intended to be PR - and indeed, he thought it would definitely not qualify as such. As I understand it, what he was trying to say is that art and science intersections are most fruitful for science when the resulting work bathes the science in positive attention. (Or any attention in this day and age.) And artist Emma Hart, the other person I interviewed for that piece, felt that PR-friendly art (such as her own creation) was ultimately useless as art-for-its-own-sake, and unappealing to artists as a result.

I don't think that Andy Charalambous, the guy who set up the whole thing, was thinking about PR. He was more interested in the artistic process, and in the interactions between the two 'camps', than in the final result.

Amy Charles said...

Thanks, Jennifer, and I'll fix the spelling of your name. Sorry.

It makes sense to me that the program wasn't meant to be PR. But I think Landua may still be missing the point if he's looking for art that shines a warm light on science. If you have art that does do that, it's as likely to cast shadows on the same science. One function of art is to articulate complexities, in some human, particular voice. It still sounds to me like Landua is looking for art to do the work of propaganda, however lightly.

If a work were entirely joyous wrt science, it'd be an accident having to do with the artist, and you can bet that if it were powerful, there'd be tremendous outcry from many quarters. Similarly, I can see a powerful piece of science-related art attracting attention, regardless of what it raises, but the conversation it provokes may be both helpful and unhelpful to scientists.

Charalambous's interests sound to me more likely. Bah, I have to go, will try to refine later.