I have just read Nora Sorensen’s Vaage’s article “ On Cultures and Artscience; interdisciplinarity and discourses of ‘twos’ and ‘threes’ after Snow’s Two Cultures’
Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies, Vol 3, Iss 1, p3.
I am sending it to her for comment and posting this draft here
July 19 DRAFT
Essay Concerning Human Understanding: against the Term “Artscience”:
In response to Nora Sorensen Vaage’s article “ On Cultures and Artscience; interdiscilinarity and discourses of ‘twos’ and ‘threes’ after Snow’s Two Cultures’
Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies, Vol 3, Issue 1, p3. 2015
Vaage argues in her article ‘On Cultures and Artscience’ that the term artscience, in vogue for the past few years , reinforces an old notion of a binary opposition between these two fields, and carries within it the problematic concept of a ‘third culture’. This promised synthesis she feels disguises the plurality of perceptions and approaches within and across fields, overemphasizes divisions and may ignore complexities and in some cases ‘leave out important parts of the picture”. She argues that the discourses both of ‘third culture’ and ‘artscience’ may ‘occlude the multiple possible constellations of practionners, roles and approaches and may be a potential limitation to interdisciplinary collaborations’. I agree.
Her article reviews some of the history of the two cultures debate beginning with T H Huxley’s 1880 Mason College Lecture “Science and Culture’ and Mathew Arnold’s 1882 Rede Lecture “ Literature and Science, and of course the discussion triggered by C.P. Snow’s 1959 Rede Lecture “The Two Cultures’. She argues that this way of framing the issues relies on a false dichotomy. She argues for a more complex model of the many cultures, in the arts, design, humanities sciences and engineering that need to be part of the picture, which the term artscience can mask, and quotes favorably Stefan Collini’s introduction to the 1998 edition of Snow’s Two Cultures who states” in place of the old apparently confident empires, the map (of the disciplines’ shows many more smaller states with networks of alliances and communication between them crisscrossing in complex and surprising ways’.
In many ways I agree with Vaage’s analysis and argumentation and that the term artscience is problematic. When I named my new research lab, at the University of Texas at Dallas, as the ArtSciLab I was clearly tying in to the contemporary discourse ( circa 2010). The shifting landscape of terminology in the broad ‘ art,science and technology’ community of practice has been constantly evolving since the journal Leonardo was founded nearly 50 years ago. The computer arts, electronic arts, interactive arts, digital arts, new media arts litter the landscape of art and technology practice. Similarly artscience is but the latest terminological fad in a shifting landscape of interdisciplinary practice. Kathyn Evans at UTDallas recently reviewed the literature on interdisciplinary practices and this literature indeed begins also in the late 19th century; that history is littered with terms such as interdisciplinary studies, holistic studies, integrative studies with new university programs appearing in decadal succession. In more recent years the terminology has complexified with the discussions on inter, multi and trans-disciplinarity. ( see Kathryn’s resource site http://www.utdallas.edu/atec/cdash/ )
A few years ago I was involved an NSF funded study led by Carol Lafayette and Carol Strohecker and with the Amy Ione, with the active collaboration of over 200 members of our community ( see the over 60 white papers at https://seadnetwork.wordpress.com/white-paper-abstracts/final-white-papers/ ). This led to the report was published this year as “Steps to an Ecology of Networked Knowledge and Innovation ” (MIT Press, 2015 http://www.mitpressjournals.org/page/NSF_SEAD ) (Steps to an Ecology of Networked Knowledge and Innovation ). The title for this report reflects the very same discussion that is the focus of of Vaage’s essay and we also felt that both the “two culture’ and the “third culture’ terminologies problematized the discussion in ways that we felt were not productive and that we did not wish to promote or advocate. The argument against the ‘two cultures’ metaphor was driven home in particular by Jonathan Zilberg in his SEAD meta-analysis https://seadnetwork.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/zilberg_meta.pdf . Hence the report title “Steps to an Ecology of Networked Knowledge and Innovation.
We chose as the cover image Johan Bollen’s map of science derived from clickstream data (2009) ( http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0004803 ). This ‘data driven’ representation visualizes the on line clicking behavior of researchers and we felt carried with it the metaphor that within which we wanted to embed our report. The network and ecological metaphor for the structure of knowledge systems, as opposed to the tree of knowledge metaphor, seemed to us be more appropriate to understanding communities of practice than organizational structures, such as exist in educational organizations. SEAD meta analysis author Francois Joseph Lapointe carried out out a network analysis of the 200 white paper authors that was particularly revealing : https://seadnetwork.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/lapointe_meta.pdf and also revealed a population of ‘hybrid’ professionals with training in both a field of science and engineering and a field of art/edesign/humanities. These discussions reinforce the findings of researcher Loe Leyesdorff and colleagues ( http://www.leydesdorff.net/ahci/ see also http://www.leydesdorff.net/leonardo/leonardo.pdf ) in analyzing incoming and outgoing citations to articles in the Leonardo Journal developed a similar network visualization of the community of practice that uses that journal as a place to document their work; he also produced an animation ( http://www.leydesdorff.net/journals/leonardo/citing/index.htm ) of the way that network of connections has evolved over the last 50 years showing that the community of practice has changed the focus of its activities and the connections it exploits between different disciplines. This dynamic network of disciplines metaphor seems to me appropriate to the current situation.
Of course however Universities remain tree structured, creating impediments to inter, multi and trans-disciplinary practice and as pointed out by Vaage , Snow’s gripe was first with the British educational system not with the structure of natural philosophy.
The subtitle of our report was :” Enabling new forms of collaboration among sciences, engineering, arts, and design” which in part was a historical accident as SEAD was the title of the funding grant received from the NSF by the PI Carol Lafayette. As we worked with our colleagues it was clear to us that the community of practice was not captured by either the terms “art and science”, or “art and technology”. Rather the ecological landscape of disciplines had disciplinary practices centered in the arts, design, the physical sciences, the social sciences and humanities, engineering and technology; dangerously this seemed to encompass a large fraction of all human knowledge !.
The term STEM to STEAM emerged within this process advocated in particular by John Maeda then at the Rhode Island School of Design, a term which tied the discussion to the politically and industrially driven ‘STEM’ discussion within science and engineering university programs and the claimed need of a shortage of graduates in “ Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’’ ( there is an active research literature that disputes the claimed STEM graduates shortage eg http://www.theguardian.com/careers/work-blog/stem-skills-shortage ). *Integrating the arts and design into STEM teaching has become a movement with the acronym taking hold even though the term A in STEAM doesn’t capture the variety of practices that bridge the range of arts and design but also the other sub ecology of arts, social sciences and humanities. Amazingly 67 US congressmen and women are now part of the US Congressional caucus for STEAM: https://stefanik.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congresswoman-stefanik-co-chairs-congressional-steam-caucus ; thats probably more congresspeople that agree on anything these days ! For more discussion of currrent vocabularies see Kathryn Evans ( http://www.arteducators.org/research/STEAM_Definitions_Document.pdf )
In recent years the STEAM discourse has also taken hold in funding and political structures with an interesting chain of connections between “artscience”, ‘art, design and technology’ linked to creativity and innovation discourses then connected to job creation ( as often is the STEM discourse). The US National Academies are sponsoring this November where artscience is viewed as an emerging frontier of scientific research. The NAFKI Futures conference titiled : Art and Science, Engineering, and Medicine Frontier Collaborations: Ideation, Translation and Realization. see http://www.keckfutures.org/conferences/art-sem/index.html The European Union Europe 2020 funding program has recently announced the STARTS initiative for Science, Technology and the Arts : https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/ict-art-starts-platform . Their recent report http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=10227 makes clear that the focus is the technosciences rather than the basic sciences, and design and technology rather than the fine arts with the argumentation tied to the creation of new economic sectors and near term employment. The foundation of STARTS is art and design couple to Information and Computing Technology.
The good news is that the ‘art, science and technology’ community of practice is growing by any figure of merit. The bad news, as emphasized by Vaage is that there is conceptual and terminological confusion. Thirty years ago Leonardo editorial board member Roy Ascott advocated that we stop using the term ‘art’ because it tied us too closely to the very conservative, generally anti science and technology, art establishment at the time in art schools, university art departments and art museums. Today culture has integrated digital culture with the born digital generations having little time for the debates of the two cultures debate and the term ‘art’ now encompasses many of the art forms that were first developing in the art, science and technology community of practice 50 years ago.
In the discussions among us as we finalized the SEAD report it became clear to us that the now dominant discourse on art and technology/creativity/innovation/full employment economy (one that C.P Snow also argued ) also tend to confuse means and ends. Creativity and Innovation are not ends in themselves (and nor is full employment), we felt, but are means to creating healthy and vibrant human communities in which we want to live. In the 13 processes we identified our final process for enabling new forms of collaboration between ‘science, engineering, arts and design” was entitled “Thriving “and viewed SEAD ingredients as essential contributors to healthy communities with process 12 being “Foregrounding Ethics and Values” and process 13. “Promoting Well Being and Joyfulness” !!.
I am currently working on an essay with French physicist Jean-Marc Levy Leblond for publication in a special issue on Digital Culture guest edited by Annick Bureaud for the French publication MCD. In our discussions a number of concerns have been developed; first that the artscience movement tends to over emphasize the physical sciences and not sufficiently the social and human sciences, second that art and science often under the hood is art and technology rather than the basic sciences, that the humanities are marginally present, and finally that the discourse connecting artscitech to creativity, innovation and employment insufficiently raises the critical questions of how science and technology are embedded in certain economic models of societal development. C.P. Snow himself in the Two Cultures books was particularly insistent on the possible role of science and technology in helping raise the standard of living in the developing world ( Eisenhower’s warnings about the possible risks of the university/military/government complex were recent when Snow wrote) and and the 1970s, uncomfortably prescient, arguments on the ‘Limits to Growth’ were being developed by the Club of Rome. How do we develop ‘artscience’ as one of the components to helping develop sustainable, full employment, healthy, joyful, human societies ?
That’s a lot to pack into a discussion provoked by Vaag’s useful essay deconstructing the term ‘artscience’ and its current popularity and political correctness. She is right I think that the term “artscience’ feeds into to C.P. Snows misleading ‘two cultures’ debate and its false dichotomy, and third culture cousin. I suspect in 50 years the term artscience will have disappeared, as will have equally conceptually confused terms such as the “new media” community ! Let the philosophers, taxonomists, ontologists, terminologists and experts in ‘translation studies’ get to work !
I welcome comments !