Art is qualitative and is generally associated with emotions. Science is more quantitative than qualitative and is generally associated with intelligence. Science tries to achieve perfection. Art brings into the field of science, the unexplainable world of magic. Some think art looks for questions, while science seeks answers. Some say artists often ask questions scientists would never dare to ask. Science is more like a ‘monologue’ whereas art is more like a ‘dialogue’. Scientists are trained to communicate in a particular way. As a result, they lose a piece of themselves. An objective scientist may lose his voice because of the scientific process. But both the artist as well as the scientist, want to see beyond the obvious. Both need imagination. Both look for a chance to think outside the box. Both get distracted by the blind alleys of complex social problems. Both want to come out of these blind alleys in their own way. Both draw inspiration from their conscious and unconscious realms. Perhaps, scientific creativity requires more formal training than artistic creativity. Perhaps, practising science needs lot of knowledge and experimentation, while practising art needs lot of imagination and experience, but artists and scientists tend to make good natural partners.
Leonardo da Vinci was both an artist and a scientist. He believed in connections and that everything is related to everything else. He could see connections in things that were so different from each other. He related rocks with bones, soil with flesh, and rivers with blood vessels. For him, sight was the most revered sense. It is sight that gives access to experience and reliability. He thought, taking into consideration the strong connection between eye and the brain, visual information is “transmitted to the intellect via the receptor of impressions and the common sense, an area where all sensory inputs were coordinated.” Turbulent motion and vortex formation fascinated him. Based on his intricate understanding and observation, he drew images of water in spiral motion. Another fascination for him was force. Force is responsible for motion that gives life to all things. Bodily movements for him were motions of the mind. Due to intricate understanding of these motions, he could capture continuity of motion in space. Leonardo da Vinci was a perfect example of the culmination of two cultures of art and science.
It is said that da Vinci’s anatomical drawings are both icons of science, and wonders of art. Da Vinci lived at a time, as someone said, a great divide in the modern mind did not apply. Perhaps, in da Vinci’s time, art and science were not so polarised and matured and thus coexisted naturally. Da Vinci was self-taught, an inventor and also lived in the medieval world. His knowledge never got in the way of his imagination. He was proud of his artistic creation; he was also proud of his ability to bend iron bars. This ‘Mona Lisa man’ was a true polymath; who, in the words of T H Huxley, is someone who knows something about everything and everything about something. Apart from painting, da Vinci studied biology, mathematics and engineering. His best tool was his mind.
So in this age of specialisation, can the two cultures grow? Some might say we don’t have that kind of time that is required to grow two cultures. To become a polymath, do we need enormous time? Shouldn’t we remind ourselves that “further afield your knowledge extends the greater potential you have for innovation”, be it in art or science.
(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur)
Purnendu Ghosh