Friday, March 30, 2007

Is Art more valuable than Science?

Hello all

Having given up trying to win the Love-to-Lead competition, I was emailed the above question. As a practitioner of both art and science, I felt compelled to attempt an answer - not least to spark a debate within myself as to where my loyalties lie.

Here we go....

There is no doubt that a piece of Art is generally worth more in the public's eye than a piece of Science. When, for example, was the last time you were tempted to shell out £50 quid or more on a public appearance, or a publication, by a scientist? I'm both an artist ( and scientist, and I can tell you that I've never made any money from the public for my innovations into the biology of parasites.

Come to think of it, I've never sold a piece of art, either.

No-one ever plays tribute concerts to scientists, nor will you find retrospectives of their work anywhere outside a science museum. The few genuine celebrity scientists around today (Stephen Hawking being the best example) garner respect, and are valued because of their intellect, but who would squawk in protest if Hawking decided to switch off his speech-synthesizer and become a wheelchair-bound recluse? If all the Scientists in the world went on strike, who would notice, who would care? A stark contrast, you must agree, to the impact of your average boy-band giving up the ballads and retiring to their mansions.

We value Art because it is collectable, because we need to be entertained, because we are living in the age of the cult of celebrity, because we are addicted to endorphins and adrenalin. Science offers some level of entertainment, but it's a niche market and aimed at people who are most likely to become scientists themselves (flash-bang test-tubes etc). Whereas Art is everywhere, ubiquitous and inescapable, most of Science lies buried deep in the background of mainstream life - further beyond the public's eye than the civil service (though Science is less villified, admittedly).

So is 'Art' more valuable than 'Science'?

No. Not even close. There's no real competition. And before you ask, it's got nothing to do with not selling any artwork. Leonardo failed in this respect, and look at him now...

You wouldn't be reading this article if it wasn't for Scientists. We would still be cramming into churches by the village load, looking skywards for answers and inspiration, scribbling our letters on slate with bits of natural chalk. There would be artists in abundance, and they'd maybe enrich our lives a little with their impressive rendition of real and imagined worlds (using basic pigments of course). But we'd have a life expectancy in our thirties, be unlikely to travel outside our village, drink unpastuerised milk, contaminated water and unrefined wine, itch and scratch on a daily basis, never see our grandchildren (not only would we not live long enough, we'd have no glasses to correct our myopia), and think that the cockerel's crowing makes the sun rise. Hurrah for the Enlightenment!

Yeah, yeah you might say. Valid points. But did Science ever make anyone happy or excited, eh? There's plenty of value in happiness. And we all crave at least a little excitement in our lives.

Sure. Art can deliver an adrenalin-induced, heart-pounding experience that makes tens of thousands of people smile in unison. Science can't produce an ecstatic response, and is really only responsible for moments of excitement amongst scientific practioners when they receive notice of acceptance for their latest paper (aah, the memories). So, OK, we can score Art higher in terms of excitement. But happiness? I don't think so. The excitement associated with Art is a transient experience, the length of which is defined by the talent of the artist in keeping you engaged (this includes time after the event spent sharing your experience). Science has no direct connection with happiness as it sits too far away from our day-to-day lives. So neither Art nor Science are valuable in that respect. What really does bring long-term feeling of contentment and happiness, and I know from personal experience, is a sense of belonging. Being part of something, having an identity that other people share and empathise with on a regular basis.

In my opinion, that is the most valuable thing on earth.

Dr Joseph McCrumble
Celebrity Parasitologist
Vote for me on Love To Lead Please Press here if you like this article!


Anonymous said...

Understanding Art....Is this a golfer wearing plus fours and carrying a birdie in his golf bag?

Kim Ayres said...

OK, I've voted and updated my thinking blog awards entry. You owe me one. Someday I might ask a favour...

hazel love said...

Re: Any offers on this fine example of abstract art?

I could take it down the dump for you if you like?


Good morning Dr J McC. My very best to you and your delicious wife, children and the unborn one...I trust I find you well...

I purchased a limited edition Robert Heindel print with the cash my Garn'ma left me. The print is of a Peace Rose, and that is why I bought it, not because of who it was by, because my Gran'ma used to grow them. If it hadn't been for science however, she wouldn't have been able to...and he wouldn't have been able to paint it either...

ho hum