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Leonardo 34.4 (2001) 293-294

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The New Leonardos

The editorial office of Leonardo can be compared to an astronomical observatory: as we receive information we become aware of emerging trends and patterns within our universe of the art, science and technology community. We receive hundreds of manuscripts, texts and proposals each year. As the interest and activities of this professional community evolve, so does the content of Leonardo.

It seems that a new trend is emerging. We are now receiving texts from a new generation of artist-researchers, artists very well versed in contemporary science or technology. It could be that some of these artists over the coming years will not only develop significant art--and art forms--for our times, but may also make very significant contributions to technological innovation or even to the testing of new ideas in science. Perhaps we will look back some day and find documented in the pages of this journal some of the early work and seminal ideas of these "New Leonardos."

A number of factors are catalyzing the new situation. Institutional barriers to art/science/technology work have been broken down through a number of innovative programs worldwide. New sponsors in foundations, corporations and governmental programs have begun to support such work as well as the establishment of hybrid art-science organizations. The shared language and tools of computer science have provided the basis for shared approaches for problem solving, new collaboration environments and ultimately the beginnings of overlapping epistemologies. And this new generation of artists has been finding the necessary training and education to work productively in these new areas.

The "weak claim" for these new approaches is that, through such hybridization, "better" science, more rapid innovation and more meaningful art is being produced. There are numerous examples of such work both within the pages of Leonardo and elsewhere. A "strong claim" would be that these approaches offer the promise of carrying out science, making inventions and creating art that could never have been achieved without such symbiosis between the very different disciplines of art, science and engineering. If the strong claim proves to be valid, then indeed we will start seeing the spectacular work of New Leonardos.

Art, science and technology are very different disciplines and there is no a priori reason why the strong claim should prove to be true. Artists, scientists and engineers have different goals, different working methods and success criteria, and different time scales and institutional settings for the creation of work. It will take a very long and sustained investment to create the conditions in which the New Leonardos can emerge, be recognized and have their work supported.

The cross-fertilization of artistic, scientific and engineering inquiry can be enhanced through a number of mechanisms. Ideas fleshed out within one discipline can be intentionally transferred and tried in another. Certain ideas can gain prevalence in the culture at large and emerge simultaneously in their application in many areas--one is struck by how the network model of the Internet is developing such deep metaphorical cultural validity in so many domains. Collaborative teams of experts can work together for shorter or longer periods on a common project. Experts in one discipline can be invited in as "outsiders in residence" to provoke "out-of-the-box" thinking within institutions with more focused objectives. [End Page 293]

One important mechanism is the bringing together of collaborative teams working together for shorter or longer time periods on a common project. Although there have been a number of good examples of such work in the past 50 years, it appears that the Internet and associated information technologies enable new modes of effective collaborative work. In some cases this can lead to situations of true multiple authorship, situations where audiences outside the team can be critical to the development of the work, and even situations of collective creation and authorship. When "open source" approaches are followed, numerous individuals may contribute to a developing project in such a way that it becomes impossible to identify clearly the origin and development of particular ideas or innovations. It may...


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