Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Research Doctoral School at ELTE, Budapest
April 9, 2019
ADU, Trg Republike Hrvatske 5
The changing policy context of Art&Science
“Creative work, like scientific work, should be greeted as a communal effort — an attempt by an individual to give voice to many voices, an attempt to synthesise and explore and analyse.” (Joyce Carol Oates)
A fluid global political environment radically redefines the context how public policy looks at the relations between art and science. As one of the symptom is a new found interest in reaching out across boundaries and looking at the instrumental uses art to help out with perceiving and transcending the limits of communicating global challenges.
In my talk I will talk about some of the dilemmas I encountered in the interdisciplinary field of art and science based on my experiences as a researcher who have been working in the boundaries of the various disciplines as well as practicing performing art as a professional musician.
The result of the global communication revolution is a general shift that alters the conditions of all creative work. Creating global communication networks opens up previously unconnected conceptual universes as well. Globalization have changed the overall working environment of both science and art – together with the ontological implications what Bauman, Szakolczai and others theorized with the concept of liquid or late modernity. The result is a loss of belief in rationality, the crisis in the project of enlightenment and the search for various kind of social lubricants for people who feels trapped into an unfamiliar and often unforgiving life, keeping them from completely falling apart. We find ourselves living in an age of insecurity, where predictability that governed our basic trust in future and the belief that we can shape evidence-based policies with the help of science can shape and control our societal future is disappearing.
I will talk about t two consequence of the technological / digital drivers on the art and science nexus.
“More is different.”
Any human event, however improbable, sees its likelihood grow in a crowd. When you aggregate a lot of something, it behaves in new ways, and the new social media platforms are aggregating our individual ability to create and share, at unprecedented levels. As an example — where we previously relied on professionals to document and share emotional reactions on events, we are increasingly becoming one another’s infrastructure. The ability to balance consumption with production and sharing is transforming the channels used by both science and art as social institutions. Participation in production processes that intends to have aesthetic value – as manifested in shared photos / insightful reflections on our environment and shared by FB posts or increasingly on Instagram are testimony of the blurred boundaries of participation in visual reflections on observed reality by artists, lay persons and on qualitative social sciencists like those working in the field of visual anthropology.
One fact that is often overlooked when talked about the creative or cultural capital is the buildup of well over a trillion hours of free time each year on the part of the world’s educated population. This cognitive surplus, newly forged from previously disconnected islands of time and talent, is just raw material. To get any value out of it, we have to make it mean or do things. We, collectively, aren’t just the source of the surplus; we are also the people designing its use, by our participation and by the things we expect of one another as we wrestle together with our new connectedness.
Would the artists realize that it also shapes new social functions for them – not just as individuals but also as role models on how to use free time reflect on new developments of the discovery of this connected complex system that surrounds us.
Similarly in the field of science we see the emergence of citizen science. The realization that new institutional forms of practicing explorations may vastly contribute to global problem solving is something that is increasingly recognized by public policy makers.
The real change comes from our awareness that the cognitive surplus creates unprecedented opportunities, or rather that it creates an unprecedented opportunity for us to create those opportunities for each other. The low cost of experimentation and the huge base of potential users mean that someone with an idea that would require dozens (or thousands) of participants can now try it, at remarkably low cost, without needing to ask anyone for permission first. The story of open source movements have changed for example the cultural norms among programmers – to a point where it si common judgment that social production is the right way to create software.
This is not totally new of course – sociologists of science have shown how the communal reflections on individual discoveries can shape the dominant paradigms.
Finally on development in the 5–10 years have even further challenged the connections between art and science. As machines outsmart us in ever more domains, we, and policy makers as well comforted ourselves that one area will remain sacrosanct and uncomputable: human creativity. The need to connect art and science is driven also by the belief that for problem solving we need to rely more on the creative juices of artists.
If great art is crystallised emotion, then dull, inanimate, electronic computers can never compete with the 100 trillion sparking synapses in a human brain, no matter how powerful they may be – at least this was the comforting mantra.
However even the most creative geniuses had some disturbing observations – as Vincent van Gogh said “Great things are not done by impulse but by small things brought together.” If this is true, and the recent AI inspired music and painting testifies, we might have to even more radically rethink the relations between science and art.