Why Art Should Be Concerned about Science and the Other Way Around: The Western Project of Modernity

Decamous, Gabrielle. 2011. Why Art Should Be Concerned about Science and the Other Way Around: The Western Project of Modernity. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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According to Albert Einstein, artists and scientists were closely tied together in the past, in the seventeen-century, thanks to common ideals and the common language of Latin, which Einstein saw as uniting the entire world. As he stated in a short section titled ‘The Lost Paradise’ of The World as I See It, this bond between artists and scientists was so strong that political matters barely interfered in the disciplines’ own particular concerns. But this bond was lost, according to him, and we are now in a position of longing for this past unity, seeing it as a ‘lost paradise’, while politicians have become the guardians of international ideas.

This statement is interesting for its perceptiveness about the growing importance of the role of politicians in today’s world. Yet, it is also interesting for its mythological imagination of a past that was unified, for its understanding of a global system for the arts and sciences, and for Einstein’s understanding–and desire–that the activities of art and science be free from political interests. What is important to problematise is the actual accomplishment of a complete autonomy of intellectual work. Indeed, was this insularity ever achieved? Are the disciplines of art and science so drastically separated today as much as during Einstein’s time? Is it not in fact modernity and its predicate of autonomy that Einstein aspired to by projecting its own achievement in the past?

My argument is that it is precisely this type of mythical understanding, as much as the interaction between art and science, that must be critically examined. In We Never Have Been Modern, Bruno Latour has recently advocated an urgent reassessment of modernity, especially in the light of ecological concerns such as global warming, and for the fact that developing countries are inheriting our modern legacy. For Latour, some modern precepts, including the understanding of the development of modernity in terms of progress, need urgent revision. It is my contention that in such a task, the interaction between art and science is central–both have participated in, and indeed led, modernity’s development, as well as themselves offered critical takes on this forward march. It is as a contribution to this task that this thesis is orientated.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Additional Information:

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Art and Science, Nuclear Technology, Apocalypse, Physics, Modernity, Modern Secularity, Post-colonialism.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures



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Date Deposited:

22 Oct 2012 15:53

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:17



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