- HYLE International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry
This issue of HYLE is an exciting and bold attempt not only to explore the relationship of chemistry to art, but also, by extension, to address the current contemporary art/science liaison in some detail. I recommend this special issue as essential reading for Leonardo members and subscribers because it raises important questions regarding Leonardo's fundamental project and raison d'être.
The journal is divided into two sections. The first comprises six scholarly essays, discussing "Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry"; these are followed by book reviews and reports. The second section has four essays, a very interesting and important dialogue (between a chemist and an arts critic/ curator) and a CD-ROM containing a virtual art exhibition, Chemistry in Art—the artworks being specifically commissioned for this issue.
There are a number of fundamental questions involved in the current art/science liaison that as yet seem not to have been satisfactorily addressed. The most important of these are: (a) What is the difference between science and technology?; (b) At what level do artistic works created from a liaison with science become "art" rather than simply process diagrams, models and documentation of science processes? As David Spalding says, "I did not want to see sculptures of giant beakers" (p. 234); (c) In the liaison, artist and scientist must be equal partners—how can this possibly be achieved?
All the essays except one are written by chemists or philosophers; the exception is by Elkins, who is an art theorist and historian. There are no essays by artists! Is this glaring omission because chemistry philosophers believe artists make art and do not (or cannot) seriously discuss theoretical issues? The editors/curators asked the artists to provide "a brief text in their art projects" (p. 228). This is not the same thing as a theoretical discourse by the artists about the "intersections of art and chemistry."
The knowledge of what constitutes "art" is rather limited in most of the essays; quite often reference is solely to drawing or painting. Understandably, perhaps—why should a chemist know any more about art than an artist knows about chemistry? This point highlights question (c) above, in severe terms. These are the sorts of issues this journal raises if we read it closely from a critical perspective. This is not to say the essays in HYLE are of little value; on the contrary, they are extremely interesting, as well as scholarly, and discuss "visualization" in the past and contemporary "world of chemistry." However, we need more if we are to develop a true symbiotic relationship between science and art. This symbiosis will mean crossing Wittgenstein's notion of each discipline's specific "language game" barrier.
The final entry in the journal, "Between Chemistry and Art: A Dialogue," is a very open discussion between one of the editors, Tami Spector, and the art curator/critic David Spalding. This discussion does address some of the issues I raised above and does not tend toward the insularism of the earlier essays. Spector, to her credit, indicates that she learned much about art from her involvement in this project. This provides a clue to possible answers to some of the questions regarding the liaison of art and science. That is, both artists and scientists have to do some serious learning about each other's practices, philosophies and methodologies.
The art works on the CD-ROM's virtual exhibition—which includes images, installations and sculptures—are quite stunning: some strangely beautiful, some created specifically from scientific chemical processes and some commenting on chemistry's cultural and social impact. I will not attempt to describe these works; the colors and forms in L.E. Last's images, as an example, cannot be captured adequately with words. Readers will have [End Page 76] to purchase the journal and view the virtual exhibition themselves—they will not be disappointed.
Repeating my opening remarks, this is...