- A Contribution to the Leonardo Discussion
THE JOURNAL LEONARDO, founded in 1968 by Frank Malina, is dedicated to the connections between art on the one side and science/technology on the other. Thus it is located in one of those border areas characterized by high creative potential, from which both sides benefit: Scientists can develop new means of expression, such as, for example, the use of visual displays for the visualization of mathematical, scientific and technical processes; artists can extend their methods of design. The invention of tonal musical instruments led to polyphonic orchestral music, and the use of technical equipment such as the camera and the computer has helped art to access new means of expression, such as in media art.
Innovative interactions between art, science and technology is a central topic of Leonardo. But there is another important kind of connection between these activities, namely the rational theory of art. It raises the question of how art is defined, what its role is in society and whether there is a common base of rules for all possibilities of expression—visual, auditory and others. The Gestaltpsychologie of the late 19th century made early attempts to clarify these questions. It had a promising start, but soon hit the limits of knowledge at that time. It was not until the middle of the last century that cybernetics and information theory opened a farther-reaching path. These disciplines bring scientific thought into contact with the life sciences. Their application to matters of art started with the Information Aesthetics of Abraham Moles and Max Bense and led up to the current discipline of Neuroaesthetics.
What all these schools of thought have in common is that they are trying to decipher the phenomenon of art no longer from the point of view of artists but from that of the public. We may conceive of artworks as openings to perception. Every presentation of art must give an opportunity for the conveyance of information. The particularity of aesthetic communication lies in the purposeful preparation of the information structure; the work must be adapted to the ability and receptiveness of its audience. It is important that the process of perception succeeds well and continues for a long time.
So far, the artist solves this task through empathy and practical experience. Today, exact scientific rules for artistic works do not exist, but we can expect this to change, given the progress of neuroscience. We are still far away from such a state of knowledge, but more and more interesting insights about art will be found, both for the artist and for the audience, and thus also for Leonardo.
What are the consequences of all this for a journal such as Leonardo? Surely, it would be too easy simply to ask for a more frequent consideration of issues involving exact aesthetics. Innovations in the field of media aesthetics can be described easily and intelligibly for the common reader; Leonardo is well suited for initial publication of such new findings. Unfortunately, however, this does not hold for articles concerning information theory or neuroaesthetics, where the content is mainly expressed in the technical language of science, mathematical formulas and diagrams. Should the editors risk that parts of the journal be incomprehensible to many readers? Or should we simply leave out the exact theory of art and thus withhold from readers the progress that would allow them to think and to speak about art in ways based on science?
I do not think this problem can be solved quickly and satisfactorily for all persons involved. The least to be done would be to introduce a permanent section in Leonardo wherein experts make efforts to translate specialized publications into lay language. It would be even more desirable to persuade the authors of such technical articles to write summaries themselves for Leonardo. It seems important that Leonardo readers be continually kept informed about the major findings in the field of art theory. [End Page 2]
University of Munich, Senior Fellow of the Konrad-Zuse-Zentrum für Informationstechnik Berlin (ZIB) Email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>