Both Sides of the Brain ; Why Shouldn't a Scientist Run the Arts? History Shows That the Gulf between the Disciplines Is Artificial. COLIN TWEEDY, Head of Arts & Business, Thinks the Arts Council Chairman Ought to Be Science- Based - but May Well Be a Tory Politician
Tweedy, Colin, The Independent (London, England)
Nowadays, the Government insists that all the top jobs in the nation's quangos are publicly advertised. One recent advert has been for the chairman of the Arts Council England, the organisation that funds much of England's artistic activities. A range of candidates have put themselves forward for this unpaid job of dispensing the taxpayers' cultural largesse. But I doubt whether there are any scientists on the list. There will be fine upstanding business tycoons, media figures, philanthropists, maybe even some academics, but no scientists. Most people on reading this observation will shrug their shoulders and not for a moment think that it matters. Art and science do not go together, I can imagine them saying. But the majority of scientists work in research departments in universities and teaching hospitals, where juggling budgets, research grants, applications for funding and the competing egos of fellow scientists can be a daily occurrence. Who could be better suited to handle the complicated demands of the nation's artists, bureaucrats and politicians?
But more important than the ability to handle budgets and chair meetings is the message that the appointment of a scientist would have in addressing the artificial divide that has been created between the arts and sciences. A divide that has seen the arts increasingly marginalised in society in general and in education and government in particular. Science is seen as left brain - logical and analytical - the arts as right brain - the source of intuition and imagination. Modern man seems to say that the space between the two disciplines is huge. But is it? Paul Valery, the French Symbolist poet, said "Science and arts are crude names, in rough opposition. In fact they are inseparable." Throughout history artists and scientists, like artists and business people, did not have separate social and intellectual worlds. The Greek, Roman, medieval, Renaissance or Enlightenment creator could be a skilled craftsman, philosopher, painter, sculptor, architect and scientist. Look at Brunelleschi, painter, sculptor, engineer and architect. Books are written on Leonardo da Vinci's scientific discoveries alone. Durer and Morris were both artists and scientists. Scientists such as Copernicus and Pasteur were skilled artists; Einstein and Schweitzer were both renowned musicians.
The Dutch Nobel prize-winner Jacob van't Hoff said: "The most innovative scientists are almost always artists, musicians or poets." But is it still true today, in the first decade of the 21st century? There are some distinguished scientists who are very appreciative and knowledgeable about the arts. Indeed, many of them would make very challenging chairs of the Arts Council. But where have all the artists who are also scientists gone - are the likes of Da Vinci just one offs? There has been a rupture between science and the arts in modern times, indeed between the arts and many aspects of society, and all the video installations in the world cannot repair it. Some people point to the Enlightenment, when knowledge moved out of the studio and into the laboratory. The traditional designation of "natural philosopher" was replaced with the word "scientist".
But, curiously, the Enlightenment also saw the creation of the learned societies where artists, patrons, businessmen and scientists met and debated the great subjects, ideas and discoveries that were to transform the world. These 18th-century foundations - which included the strangely named Lunar Society - saw no boundaries between the arts and sciences. But today the 21st century learned societies seem shadows of their former selves, locked in their respective silos of thought and endeavour. Neil MacGregor, the new director of the British Museum, sees the establishment of the museum in 1753 as one of, if not the greatest example of the Enlightenment in these islands, where intellect, science, discovery and the imagination came together. …