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ART/SCIENCE and EDUCATION. we have to know what we want to know before we can start looking for it

Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss / 2008

There has been an ongoing discussion for several years now on the relationship of art and science in educational and professional contexts. Is this just another attempt to put an old fashion into new clothes? I do not think so, because this time the arguments do not constitute an attempt to make a qualitative distinction between universities or higher institutions of art, design and media. Nor is there a fundamental dispute involved whether the artistic singularity of an artefact or scientific objectivity claims to have more epistemic value. In search of significant sources nourishing the current discourse, paradigmatic changes in the process of renewing and preserving the conditions of cultural self-organization are key to a major shift in how we construct knowledge, technology and cultural memory. It concerns institutional forms as well as the individual.
One of the standpoints is to consider a revival of the „Leonardo principle“. A second standpoint might close the chapter of the relationship between art and science for the benefit of scientific-economic prosperity, whereas a third engages with the question of how cultural, intellectual and spiritual fields are prerequisite to evolutions in art, science and technology. My affinity is with the third one, although some of the issues relating to this area are similar to other positions.
Many questions derive from the context of audiovisual restructuring of knowledge and communication areas in interrelated and cooperative fields moulding into novel forms of interdisciplinary design, such as BANG design, whose acronym stands for the basic modules of our world (B=Bits, A=Atoms, N=Neurons, G=Genes).1 This field will be extended by neurophysiological research into cognition and perception, not to be confused with the ontological and philosophical terminology of cognition and perception.
In conjunction with media- and biotechnological industrialization of codes, concepts and design in the educational context of art and science have been renewed.
Can both art and science learn from each other, and, if so, at what and for what? Do both act in the same framework of design and conceptualization, as some of the new generation of media artists suggest in their explorative approach? Would it make sense to exchange curricular modules between specific study programmes?
Narrowing down the thematic frame, one crucial question remains: Which of the teaching and learning fields between art (in terms of audiovisual media design and media use) and science (in terms of research of audiovisual cognition, development of formalized models containing complex mediality and prototyping of media structures) can be formulated? The paradigmatic closeness of art, science, the economy and politics might suggest a consistent media evolution based on media convergence, yet this does not give us a satisfying answer.
The point is if, and if so, to what extent does it become meaningful to reformulate the very densely organized media evolutionary areas to make plausible and distinct the differences between artistic and scientific education. In that respect it will not make sense to reactivate old habits to distinguish between art and sciences. Current developments in media and biotechnology, neuroscience and cognition research, but also in humanity and cultural science, demonstrate the interrelatedness of knowledge creation and knowledge representation. These developments cope with the complexity of design and research thus being of a transferable structure. This principle similarly applies to art and science.
In fact, novel theoretical delineations of model, game and communication knowledge in different contexts has changed the theoretical architecture if we consider the impact of second-order cybernetic and radical constructivism (von Foerster), positions in Endophysics (Rössler),2 concepts of neuronal networks and fuzzy logic and boundary management concepts mediating between disciplines and product developments. However, these radical changes in cognition and design architecture have had less impact on learning and knowledge organization thus far. A conceptual lag can be identified in both teachings and research.
We know, for example, that not only knowledge and media technology is changing rapidly, but learning attitudes and styles are also changing fluidly across different technologies, interfaces and modes of interaction. As a consequence institutions react with a stronger emphasis on project and praxis orientation. It is not so much about how specific themes relate to a subject or university-specific didactics. The crucial issue concerns the way and to what extent the changing organization of perception and cognition, designing, processing and selection is teachable, and if it is teachable, how it can be conducted.
If we accept one of the prevailing concepts in 20th century theory, art would predominantly be created by its viewer and users; based on the economy of attentiveness and the market, a serious discussion on curricular changes would be useless. In other words art cannot be taught if it is to “potential” art producers. Would education then solely be a privilege for curators, patrons, visitors of museums and galleries, cultural managers who create, reflect and provide affirmative market behaviour? Obviously there is still a dichotomy between institutional education and self-education.
The educational landscape and discourse relating to art has long since evolved to cover a much wider range of important issues to be explored such as media and popular culture. „Takeover – who is doing the art of tomorrow“, the topics of Ars Electronica 20013, strove for a much broader discussion on new manifestations of art and fluid learning arrangements driven by the dynamics of digital revolution. The dynamism of „Takeover“ does not originate from traditional art practice and mediation, but rather from largely heterogeneous, rhizome-like structures and networks of remotely connected individuals and online communities. The common goal of these activities pertaining to evolving culture are not merely a distant-reflective kind of reaction to techno-social changes; in fact, they constitute and develop further this genuine field.
Digital network culture has not only been changing the modes of media production and distribution: it coevally conveys emerging models of cooperation, communication and interaction by accumulating various ideas, talents and capabilities. Hence, the tasks of tomorrow’s artist is that of an intermediary, a catalyst between diverse fields of knowledge, ways of thinking, social models and solution strategies. The protagonists of this development, hackers, software artists, media and knowledge designers who are irrespectively showing strong commitment in the face of considerable risk, are opening up new territories in which their role and their scope of action have not yet been fully explored. This alludes to critical inquiry, research and development in socio-political and scientific (biotechnology and genetic engineering) contexts.
Interestingly yet not surprisingly, the conventional artistic discourse has been cultivating and maintaining a self-referential and affirmative practice among galleries, magazines, investors, dealers and critics. The corporate image of the artwork has long since replaced the artwork itself. A good example is the “Institutional Critique“, an art practice in which often only advanced artists, theorists, historians, and critics can participate. Due to its highly sophisticated understanding of modern art and society, as part of a privileged discourse like that of any other specialized form of knowledge, it has predominantly yielded alienated and marginalized viewers. Net art in contrast has explored the field in a much broader context by exemplifying the work of art as a process, as opposed to a conception of art as object making. Since net art is “immaterial”, commodity value is replaced by utility value: i. e., the principles of the net economy are based on an economy of scale where there is no scarcity of goods. Thus the added value is not generated by a thousand copies of the same “product” but instead by the “exchange value” that is based on each different source of information and not on each individual copy (cf. Ghosh 1998).4
In his lecture „Science as an Open Source Process“, Friedrich Kittler5 argues that the liberty of science rises and falls in parallel with source code liberation. Only now will science become a university. In that sense, the definition of university implies, differently from in closed or secret research centers, that the knowledge must circulate and be accessible without the protection of patents and copyright issues. Media convergence gives us the opportunity to dissolve the media-technical boundaries between natural scientific, technical and cultural knowledge.

Transitory processes
In my reflection on transitory processes in art, science and education, I would like to stress the material, logical and cultural practical use and developments of media. Art and science are dependent on these morphic surroundings by inventing, developing and generating new ones. Relating to this dimension of mediamorphic events, I would like to add the following quotation:
Cyberspace … enables its audience not merely to observe a reality, but to enter it and experience it as if it were real …. Whereas film is used to show a reality to an audience, cyberspace is used to give a virtual body, and a role, to everyone in the audience. Print and radio tell; stage and film show; cyberspace embodies.6
Questions arising in this specific context relate to teachable contiguity in media production and design, the ratio between subject and media specific teachings, and how both can be applied in a dynamic, reciprocal mode.
Media evolutionhas been taking place over many centuries as specialization and fragmentation of sensual perception, communication and concepts of truth. It has been a long history of segregation of multisensoric options in human self-organization. The effects of this process of specialization and disjuncture have generated particularly strong systems such as paintings, scripture, sciences, aesthetics and so on. This has led to a material and mental disparity to which can be assigned the same texture and facture and distinctive canonic differences as with institutions, iconoclastic and iconophilic cultures. Some of the distinctive systems that arose out of this process, such as the privileged status of reading over vision, have come under pressure by multimodal and multicodal forms of production, perception and reception. Alongside the media’s evolutionary “agenda”, post-modernist and post-structuralist concepts (Derrida, Foucault, Lévinas) and tendencies of individualization as for socio-cultural changes and use of the new media are frequently being conceptualized as a dichotomy of unleashing (“deboundarisation“). However, in the current media discourse there are tendencies to discover media practice from another perspective, which means that a connection between persistence and recombination of social structuring and social practices can be seen as a model for social change. This model is based on the hypothesis that the use of new media is based on given social structures and social practices. With respect to tendencies like individualization and globalization, the social potential of new media such as weblogs7 offers distinct forms of media use within different social practices, including the strengthening of the latter as well as doing without them.
With regard to media-related functions and their proliferation, the extension of computer technology is irreversibly encoded in delocalised media and electronic networks as part of culture and society as distributed and diversified systems. A constituent factor in this process is media convergence or integration. Alongside the media synthetic approach to merge different media into one, we can identify another important attempt towards multisensory perception. The visual sense, the faculty of vision, gets back its vast cultural spectrum and in parallel the interface changes into a multisensory one. This epoch-making electronic and fibre-optic based media convergence has ceased the history of media divergence. From now on, the point is how different media functions, whether in a pure or crossover mode, come into play.
Screenager, a term first coined by Douglas Rushkoff in his 1997 book Playing the Future, is a technologically savvy young person, living next door with audiovisual gadgets and interfaces, where he/she interacts in a mediated setting of learning, entertainment, peer bonding and play. Is the interconnected “mediaspace a co-operative dream, made up of the combined projections of everyone who takes part“,8 or do these trade-offs speak to a wider set of socio-cultural implications and consequences in light of an education “close to reality“?
Taking into account the next generation of students there is now a way to cope with hybrid digital learning cultures. What was with all those demands for change in higher education institutional settings? Although several educational outreach activities have been undertaken since then, the mediation paradigm (“blended/hybrid modes of teaching and learning“) often fails on the basics.
If we interpret art and science as two dimensions relating to (post)modernist and interface culture, the prerequisites in defining a new curriculum changes significantly. It would thus demand another structure of design capabilities corresponding with an all-encompassing model of knowledge design. Thus, many of the practices and alternative viewpoints these theories claim, as for adaptive, flexible and transgressive forms of learning and developing new contextual abilities, would likewise change artistic and scientific educational processes.
The most fundamental macro-question in communication, media theory, and cultural theory is the nature of mediation, which means that we have always been in language, in symbolic systems, and we know our lived-in world by language, discourse, and signs, not by immediate access to “things in themselves“ (Kant). The primacy of mediation in any theoretical model is milieu, medium, structure and system of mediation. Hence artistic practice significantly changes into mediation between the viewer and the subject, between “art“ and “life“, media, technique and expression, art and institutions, copyright and art work …
Over the last two decades, we have learned to know about dissipative structures in biology, fractal and chaos theory, network and self-organization theory, yet with little impact on the academic institutional teaching and learning culture. With the notion of social technologies, the accompanying current transformation process from single authorship to co-authorship, public versus person-to-person communication, contributions versus display, has become virulent in the net activism of the 1990s that links in many ways with the social or socially critical processes of the 1960s and 70s (e. g. U. Eco’s “open“ works of art and J. Beuys’s concept of “social sculpture“ relating plastic creativity to socio-political activities, K. Galloway and S. Rabinowitz’s “Hole-In-Space“ as for telematics and telepresence). Current social software developments are merging the socio-political and media-technological towards a democratizing and participatory media approach.
By applying this to learning processes in a digital age, one of the main questions is how the increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, systems and ecology theories is perceived in light of learning tasks. Alternative theories deriving from chaos, self-organization and social network theories suggest that we can no longer personally experience and acquire the learning that we need to act. We derive our competence from forming connections. Chaos, as a science, recognizes the connection of everything to everything.9 The butterfly analogy highlights the challenge of how we deal with sensitive dependence on initial conditions that profoundly impact what we learn and how we act based on our learning. As for social-network theories, Albert-László Barabási states that “nodes always compete for connections because links represent survival in an interconnected world”.10 This competition is largely dulled within a personal learning network, but the placing of value on certain nodes over others is a reality. Connections between disparate ideas and fields can create new innovations. This amplification of learning, knowledge and understanding through the extension of a personal network is the epitome of a new learning culture.

Dieser Text ist eine gekürzte Version der Originalfassung, die in Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture (2008), The University of Chicago Press, S. 103–114, erschienen ist.

1.)Bolz, Norbert (2006): bang design – design manifesto of the 21st century. Hamburg: Trendbüro.
2.)Interview with Otto E. Rössler (in German): Vom Chaos, der Virtuellen Realität und der Endophysik. http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/5/5004/1.html (15.11.2006).
3.)Stocker, G./ Schöpf, C. (ed.) 2001: Ars Electronica 2001. Wien, New York: Springer.
4.)Ghosh, R. A.: „In an environment where it costs next to nothing to duplicate a product, exactly what is scarce? A Ferrari F40 would presumably be cheaper if it cost under a dollar to make a perfect copy.“ firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/580 (01/05/2013).
5.)Kittler, F.: „Wissenschaft als Open-Source-Prozeß“, http://hydra.humanities.uci.edu/kittler/os.html (1.6.2013).
6.)Walser, R: „Elements of a Cyberspace Playhouse“ (1990), cited in Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 192.
7.)See also Herring, S. C., Scheidt, L. A., Wright, E., and Bonus, S. (2005): Weblogs as a Bridging Genre. Information, Technology, & People, 18 (22), pp. 142–171.
8.)Rushkoff: 1999, p. 269.
9.)cf. Gleick’s “Butterfly Effect“. In: Gleick, J., (1987). Chaos: The Making of a New Science. New York, NY, Penguin Books.
10.)Barabási, A. L., (2002): p. 106.

Barabási, A.-L. 2003. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. NY: Plume Books.
Bolz, N. 2006. bang design. design manifest des 21. Jahrhunderts. Hamburg: Trend Büro
Galison, P. In: Latour, B., Weibel, P. 2002. Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion and Art. Boston: MIT Press.
Gleick, J. 1987. Chaos: The Making of a New Science. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Rushkoff, D. 1999. Playing the Future: What We Can Learn from Digital Kids. New York: Riverhead Books.
Stocker, G./ Schöpf, C. (ed.) 2001. Ars Electronica 2001. Wien, New York: Springer.
Walser, R. 1990. Elements of a Cyberspace Playhouse, cited in Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Waldrop, M. 1992. Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. NY: Touchstone.

[Dieser Text findet sich im Reader Nr. 1 auf S. 535.]

[Es sind keine weiteren Materialien zu diesem Beitrag hinterlegt.]

Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss

(*1961 in Wels, Österreich) ist ein österreichischer Kommunikationswissenschafter, Kunst- und Medienpädagoge sowie Professor an der Aalto-Universität Helsinki im Institut für Kunst, Design und Architektur. Er ist Autor von Synthesis and Nullification. Works 1991–2011 (2012), (IN)VISBLE. Learning to Act in the Metaverse (2008) und Herausgeber von Mashup Cultures (2010), Future Learning Spaces  (gemeinsam mit Owen Kelly; 2012) und ePedagogy – Visual Knowledge Building. Rethinking Art and Media in Education (2005). Zurzeit arbeitet er an einer umfangreichen Publikation im Bereich Social Media Art. Web: http://www.sonvilla-weiss.org/


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Barabási, Albert-László  ·  Beuys, Joseph  ·  Derrida, Jacques  ·  Foerster, Heinz von  ·  Foucault, Michel  ·  Galloway, Kit  ·  Gosh, Rishab Aiyer  ·  Kant, Immanuel  ·  Kittler, Friedrich  ·  Lévinas, Emmanuel  ·  Rabinowitz, Sherrie  ·  Rössler, Otto E.  ·  Rushkoff, Douglas  ·  Sonvilla-Weiss, Stefan