Saturday, December 12, 2009

Let Me Phrase That Better

My critique of the Impressionists in the post below got kind of out of control. I meant to sum it up clearly. I'll try to do that now.

Impressionist: Armed with the insights of modern science, I am going to depict the figure/ground phenomenon as we really perceive it, stripped of hoary aesthetic considerations. I will conduct a scientific inquiry into the nature of sight.

Neuroscientist: Actually, you're 0 for 1 on that, Georges.

Impressionist: Sacrebleu! How come?

Neuroscientist: Because what you're doing isn't science. What made you think that a painting is a controlled experiment?

Impressionist: Uh... le scientisme?

Neuroscientist: Bingo.

To be fair, the undifferentiated visual field of the Impressionists does provide scientists with very interesting material - but the material has to do with analyzing how we build up an undifferentiated field into a coherent image, and not with any kind of "scientific relevation" that what we really see is an undifferentiated field. So the Impressionists kind of hilariously flame out on their stated intention, but wind up being useful to scientists anyway.

The moral for artists remains that you should put art first, science second.


  1. Agree. There's a difference between the thrill you get when driving a fast car and knowing what's goes on under the hood.

    Analogy is about 70% there, I know, but it was the best I could do.

  2. 70% isn't bad, Chris, but I'm not sure I get the linkage here. What I'm saying is that when artists try to look under the hood, they're usually looking under the hood of the wrong car. Does that make sense?