Prospectus:  Great Moments in Art & Science  
( unpublished book in search of publsiher - if you are a publisher or have suggestions, please contact me)
c Stephen Wilson, 2007

Science and art - twin pillars of creativity and innovation in any dynamic culture. Commonly they are seen as different as day and night.  Many contemporary artists reject this. They are creating revolutionary art at the frontiers of scientific research that is breathtaking in its creative reach and mind stretching in its assault on traditional categories. They see art as an independent zone of research to pursue areas of science and research that are ignored by mainstream academic disciplines.  They are developing technologies that would be rejected by the marketplace that are nonetheless culturally critical.  They are pursuing inquiries that are seen as too controversial, too wacky, too improbable, too speculative for regular science and technology.  They proclaim that art must assume its historical position of keeping watch on the cultural frontier.

Some believe that this place where art meets science will be a major arena of 21st century art. This art may well give hints of what lies beyond video, computer and Internet art.   Great Moments in Art & Science offers an introduction to historical precursors of the current era.  In recent decades, artists have toyed with technology.  Now, however, we may be at a critical moment in art & science.  Something is different as artists dig into the conceptual core of advanced research and master its techniques and tools to become hands-on inventors and researchers rather than just users of its gadgets.  It would be a mistake, however, to think that art and science have always been so dissociated as they have seemed in recent decades. There have been other great moments in art & science.  The book takes a new look at the critical eras in art history in which art & science had a more dynamic relationship than the recent past.  It surveys these landmarks of artistic involvement with science as a tool for appreciating and understanding the new relationship to science being forged by contemporary experimental artists.

For example, it looks at the prehistoric/Neolithic/Bronze ages in which the same persons were both artists and scientists. Prehistoric cave painters were also major researchers in zoology, anatomy, and physiology. The builders of Stonehenge were innovators in engineering and astronomy.  The metal artists of the Bronze Age were the founders of the fields of metallurgy and materials sciences as they figured out how to change strangely colored dirt into metal and new alloys used to create exquisite items of utility and beauty.  It demystifies the Renaissance to demonstrate that as much of a genius Leonardo was, he was not totally unusual.  He was part of a culture founded on the core value that artists and scientists could not succeed without being vitally interested in each other's work. Leonardo and other artists had a notion of "deep seeing", which meant understanding the underlying processes of the world - somewhat in the way scientists would - and was seen as a major tool for art.  For example, studying flow dynamics helps to paint water, studying the flight of birds helps to paint birds, investigations of anatomy and dissection enables one to be a better painter and sculptor of the body.

It looks at the decades of upheaval between 1880 and 1930 in which both science and art underwent radical paradigmatic revolutions and in which new technologies of perception, communication, and production reshaped the landscape.  It surveys the variety of artistic responses along the continuum of deep involvement in new zeitgeists of time and space to utopian attempts to engage artists in building a better world through science and technology to irreverence, skepticism, resistance, and exposing the shadow side of science and technology.  The book presents these historical precursors as assets for bringing today’s activities even more to life and for thinking about future possibilities.

Contact Information
Stephen Wilson, Professor
Conceptual / Information Arts Program
Art Department/ 1600 Holloway, San Francisco State University/, SF, CA 94132
(415) 338-2291 Email to swilson(
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