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Leonardo Reuinus section includes reviews of b o o k , journals and otherpnt publications, W p o d ucts , videos andfilms, softwareand new technologies, confeences, exhibitionsand other euentsin the field o f art, science and technology.Additional rarieus can befound in Leonardo Electronic News, Leonardo Currents and theFine Art, Scienceand Technology (FAST)electronicdatabase. ART AND PHYSICS:PARALLXL VISIONS IN SPACE,TIMEAND LIGHT by Leonard Shlain.William Morrow, New York, NY, 1991.480 pp. $24.50. ISBN 0-68809782-9. Reviewed by Rudolf Arnheim, 1200Earhart Road,Ann Arbor, MI 48105, U.S.A. Leonard Shlain’streatise is a welcome exception to the ever-increasingnumber of semipopularbooks that tend to leave anybody impatientwho is used to relying on primary sources. Given to panoramic views and often not anchored to any one discipline, the authors of such books are given to audaciousshort circuits between areas of knowledgenot commonly connected. Not quite reliable on any particular subject,they cite all the shopworn quotationsfrom the classical sources;and the dazzlingmultiplicityof their statementsand references tends to leave the general reader vaguely enlightened and awed. Shlain’sbook shares some of these shortcomingsbut is otherwisedistinctly superior to the run of the mill. He, too, does not hesitate to entitle a chapter “Newton’sApples/CCzanne’s Apples,” and he afnictsus with all the standard anecdotesand quotations.Occasionally also he overwritesquite badly, such as when he tracescolor perception: ‘The electrochemicalsignalsfrom the cones then travel to the rear of our brains to illuminatein technicolora magical screen on the oppositesideof the head from the eyes called the visual cortex” (p. 170).Otherwise,however, he uses his attractiveability to clanfy difficultconcepts in an imaginative language.What is more, Shlain,a San Francisco surgeon and a broadly educated man, tends to be remarkably reliable in capturing,with a fewlively sentences,the essentialsof an incrediblevariety of subjects.At times, he hits the mark even where a r tcritics commonly mislead their readers,for examplewhen he recognized that “Cubismis an art form that has neither implicitor explicitsequentialtime”but depicts a timeless simultaneity(p. 200). In sum, I would recommend especially the first half orso of thisvoluminous book as an intelligententertainmentfor intellectuallydemandingreaders and, beyond that, as a useful exercisein making acceptedconceptsmore elastic. When one undertakes to relate two disciplinesas differentas physics and art to each other, one obviously dealsnot with an equation but onlywith anale gies,revealingsimilaritiesin some respects and differencesin others. Shlainwisely prefers to speakof complementarityor concordance.He takes the theme of his book from the triad of conceptsin modem physics-space, time, and light-and goes by the assumption that the intuition of artistsprecedes the insights of scientists. One can agreewith Shlainwhen he points to the parallel between Maxwell’s electromagneticfield theory and paintings ofJackson Pollock,and there is an obvious relation between Cezanne’slate landscapes or the work of Lyonel Feininger and the realization in modem physics that space is enlivenedby the action of forces.Not surprisingly,the comparisonworks most literallyfor someworks that are pictoriallyinferior, such as those by Dali or Magritte.On the whole, however, it is indeed necessary to rise to the highest level of abstractionon which physics and art do meet on common ground and where the basic differences can be put aside. Thus, as Shlain reminds us, our modem age has been alerted to the fact that color is not objectively invariable,and this not only by the physicists through their observationsof the Doppler effectbut also by painters who noticed that the local color of objectsis liable to passing influences.To embrace,however, in a common awareness two observationsfrom such different realms of experiencerequires a philosopher’sability to change his compression level withoutgettingbreathless . It is less likely to enter the consciousness of the entire culture. I will illustratethe problemsarising from too rash a comparisonof physics and art by referring to Shlain’sfavorite example,namely, Einstein’srealization that, for an observermoving at the speed of light,differencessuch as the dimensionsof space and time disap pear. He relatesthis revolutionary insightto stylesof artflatteningout space or eliminatingnarrativeevents from the subject matter in painting. But here one must remember that the limitation in painting to the twodimensiona1surface and to the depiction of static situationsdoes not come about as a withdrawal from three-dimensional space but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 262-263
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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