Visuality in Arts and Science

by MT

“There is a close analogy between the aims of art and science. Descriptive science is, of course, concerned only with the record of appearances; but art and theoretical science have much in common. The imagination is required for both; both illustrate that natural tendency to seek the one in the many, to formulate natural laws, which is expressed in the saying that the human mind functions naturally towards unity. The aim of the trained scientific or artistic imagination is to conceive (concipio, lay hold of), invent (invenio, to light upon), or imagine (visualise) some unifying truth previously unsuspected or forgotten.

The theory of evolution or of electrons or atoms; the rapid discovery (unveiling) by a mathematical genius of the answer to an abstruse calculation; the conception that flashes into the artist’s mind, all these represent some true vision of the Idea underlying phenomenal experience, some message from the ‘exhaustless source of truth.’ Ideal art is thus rather a spiritual discovery, than a creation. It differs from science in its concern primarily with subjective things, things as they are for us, rather than in themselves. Empirical science is a record of ‘facts’; art is the controlled and rhythmic expression of emotion. But both art and science have the common aim of unity; of formulating natural laws.”

“The real aim, both of art and of science, is to reach the type, the Platonic Idea. Art seeks this end deductively and synthetically, empirical science only inductively, and analytically.” [18-9]

~’The Aims and Methods of Indian Art’, in Essays in National Idealism, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy [1909]

* * *

“All science and all art may be divided into that which is subservient to life (practical, useful), and which is the object of life (useless). . . . ”

The step between practical and theoretic science is the step between the miner and the geologist, and apothecary and the chemist; and the step between practical and theoretica art is that between the brick layer and the architect, between the plumber and the artist, and this is a step allowed on all hands to be from less to greater; so that the so-called useless part of each profession does by the authoritative and right instinct of mankind assume the superior and more noble place, even though books be sometimes written, and that by writers of no ordinary mind, which assume that a chemist is rewarded for the years of toil which have traced the greater part of the combinations of matter to their ultimate atoms, by discovering a cheap way of refining sugar, and date the eminence of the philosopher, whose life has been spent in the investigation of the laws of light, from the time of his inventing an improvement in spectacles.” [8-9]

~Modern Painters: Volume II. Of the Imaginative and Theoretic Faculties, John Ruskin [1843-60]

* * *

“Only for the sense of landscape beauty did unaided nature make provision. … it is only in the infancy of lands where all the earth was fair, that Greek and Roman humanity had sympathy enough with the inanimate world to be alive to the charms of rural and of mountain scenery. In later generations, when the glories of the landscape had been heightened by plantation, and decorative architecture, and other forms of picturesque improvement, the poets of Greece and Rome were blinded by excess of light, and became, at last, almost insensible to beauties that now, even in their degraded state, enchant every eye, except, too often, those which a lifelong familiarity has dulled to their attractions.”[8]

“Sight is a faculty; seeing, an art. The eye is a physical, but not a self-acting apparatus, and in general it sees only what it seeks. … It is disputed whether he purely material sensibility of the eye is capable of improvement and cultivation. It has been maintained by high authority, that the natural acuteness of none of our sensuous faculties can be heightened by use, and hence that the minutest details of the image formed on the retina are as perfect in the most untrained, as in the most thoroughly disciplined organ. This may well be doubted and it is agreed on all hands that the power of multifarious perception and rapid discrimination may be immensely increased by well-directed practice. This exercise of the eye I desire to promote, and…I know no more important practical lessons in this earthly life of ours … than those relating to the employment of the sense of vision in the study of nature.”[15-17]

~Man and Nature: Or Physical Geology as Modified by Human Action, George Perkins Marsh [1864]

[cf. Three Translations]