Art vs. science

by PhilGoetz1 min read1st Mar 201215 comments


Personal Blog

It struck me this morning that a key feature that distinguishes art from science is that art is studied in the context of the artist, while science is not.  When you learn calculus, mechanics, or optics, you don't read Newton.  Science has content that can be abstracted out of one context - including the context of its creation - and studied and used in other contexts.  This is a defining characteristic.  Whereas art can't be easily removed from its context - one could argue art is context.  When we study art, we study the original work by a single artist, to get that artist's vision.

(This isn't a defining characteristic of art - it wasn't true until the twelfth century, when writers and artists began signing their works.  In ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages in Europe, the content, subject, or purpose of art was considered primary, in the same way that the content of science is today.  "Homer's" Iliad was a collaborative project, in which many authors (presumably) agreed that the story was the important thing, not one author's vision of it, and (also presumably) added to it in much the way that science is cumulative today.  Medieval art generally glorified the church or the state.)

However, because this is the way western society views art today, we can use this as a test.  Is it art or science?  Well, is its teaching organized around the creators, or around the content?

Philosophy and linguistics are somewhere between art and science by this test.  So is symbolic AI, while data mining is pure science.