The Dirac/Dali Arm Wrestle is a fiction: Two Cultures Embrace Because they Must

I woke up tetchy this morning. Then I read about Tony Abbott and his new anti-science, anti-human being government, then I had a chat with Tim Minchin, and this is the yelp that resulted.

My tour schedule is often preposterous – Aberdeen then Cardiff, Stirling then Egham then Glasgow, Dublin to Spalding. The most precarious gig was attempting to get from London to Braintree, a journey that made me rejoice that I am not a commuter. Greater Anglia did not even offer a flamboyant alibi, the train just wasn’t there and that’s that. As the mechanised voice repeatedly offered its apologies for “any inconvenience caused” I am sure I noticed the hint of tearfulness, the Turing machine is almost upon us.
These frenetic journeys are not solely due to my bookers geographical ineptitude, he frequently says, “are you sure you want to do that gig then that one and that one”, and I, with my ego and desire to gesticulate wildly in as many locations as possible, say yes. Though I swore at the reflection of myself yesterday as I left London to go to Edinburgh to go to Dorking and back to Edinburgh, I was eventually glad that I had twisted my own arm so effectively again. I was hosting a gig at the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, the first of their new monthly nighttime events. It was timed to coincide with the opening of a new exhibition where art collaborated with the oceans. Cape Farewell is an organisation that puts artists together with scientists. The artists are taken on expeditions to see how human use of resources and climate change are altering the natural world, then scientists react to what they have witnessed through their work. I watched paleo-oceanography meet poetry, photography collaborate farming, fiddles collide with foraminifera. An audience who had probably never heard the word foraminifera before, I know hadn’t, learnt of what we can know about the changing sea from their shells and fossils and how an artist has reacted to it via sculpture and video. Without wishing to echo The Spice Girls, here two cultures became one.
Art can create a potent entrance into a world of ideas that, considering their possibly disastrous consequences, we are surprisingly ambivalent about. The idea of “the two cultures”, this ugly arm wrestle between Dali and Dirac, is predominantly redundant, at least on the grassroots level. It seems less so in the mass media, where fashion spreads of frock coats you can’t afford and do not desire, take up far more room than scientific curiosity beyond button and fastener innovation.
Graphs can be hard to grapple, as can ocean acidity analysis, but something of beauty or intrigue, an imaginative reaction to reality, draws the eye, and from there, the fascination begins. This fascination that makes the voyeur want to know more. Science papers can be cold, they are attempting objectivity and that means that the language of poetry may not be suitable, but that does not mean that the story that lies within is deathly and drab. Art can act as a translator. My own shows are a hasty sprint through the jumble of my thoughts and reactions to what I have seen and read, I do not expect anyone to leave and say, “ah, so now I understand evolution by natural selection and quantum theory”, but I hope that I have offered just enough ludicrously delivered ideas to make people want to know more from a proper authority.
We need to find more ways of getting ideas to people, to demonstrate the consequences of the way we use the world at the moment. The mass media is not doing a good job. Conservative contrarians are wildly overrepresented, illusions of balance make a pantomime of too many subjects, ad hominem attacks replace research, Russell Brand is a revolutionary voice because, amongst the mainstream, most of the left are just a soft right who like the idea of social change and nice things, but a fear and desire the mighty businessmen with their granite jaws, solipsism and short term, cold sweat passion for fast profit. The contrarians, learning from Fox news, have found the swiftest way to manipulate is to play the part of the outsider, the little Norman Wisdom fighting the bully, the silenced voice of reason given ample airtime to holler about how they are given no airtime, to declare they are the victim while brazenly punching the already fallen.
With the major outlets of information so frequently falling short, the artists and scientists need to find new ways to get out there and take the stories and research and imagery to people. It is not to get out there to tell people what to think, but give them tales of the natural world and investigations into it that will allow them to form their own arguments and start to investigate for themselves. Ideas like climate change, social justice, international banking, are hide to comprehend in their entirety, the big picture can be suffocating, we need to find ways of framing the smaller pictures, to build from there. This is not about one big painting, but about a huge gallery. You can’t know everything about William Blake by viewing just one picture, but by walking through corridors of pages and etchings. We are a storytelling animal becoming comatose as the same stories play out in front of us as we sink further into an easier and easier chair, we need to make sure the important stories do not go untold as we go blind and deaf from the same old songs and the flashes of neon.
So what I am really saying is, come on artists, scientists, campaigners, we better come up with a plan. The commissioners and financiers are playing safe, I believe that people want more, but it is only by getting out there and showing what else there can be that there is so much more to see.

for details of gigs in Windsor, Hull, Totton, Edinburgh, York, Leeds, plus Christmas shows with Prof Cox and Cosmic Genome App, go here

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8 Responses to The Dirac/Dali Arm Wrestle is a fiction: Two Cultures Embrace Because they Must

  1. sam says:

    Yet another dig at contrarians, you people

    • Thanks this was a good read. (Had to Google an embarrassing amount of words though to fully understand :s.) I’m going to think about how to ‘framing the smaller pictures, to build from there’ today, even if starting a small photo project at home. You have to begin somewhere, right? (Or preferably left, hoho)

  2. Loved what you just wrote, so true. There is this creative link between art and science that has the ability to open minds to new ways of seeing and understanding what is happening to our world. Less dogmatic and more inspiring, a catalyst to becoming involved, to act rather than react. Art in combination with awareness and reason moves you like nothing else can.

  3. p.s. ‘you people’ just makes me think of an alan partridge quote lol. hard to take it seriously

  4. These art/science collabs are beautiful. It’s a shame that they’re not just part of everyday mass media. I guess part of the answer is rather than put it on a pedestal for Observer Monthly readers to collectively masturbate over, to actually infect popular culture with it on popular culture’s terms.

    Our kids don’t want to be preached at. When they’re at the age of still knowing that art and science are all part of the continuum of sheer wonder that is simply life, before they’ve had this false dichotomy wedged into their intellect, hit them up with the thrill, the dark humour, the madcappery of it all. Kids are smart, critical, funny and demanding. When I talk with my girls about Abbott or anthotypes or how a pacemaker is like a musical metronome, they ask all the right questions and don’t suppose they’re straddling multiple fields of knowledge. They can sniff absurd, dodgy politics a mile off. If Dahl had written nasty, rotten, hilarious rhymes about politicians and climate change, we’d be part of the way there. The Lorax has had a huge revival because it’s entertaining, not just because it has a profound message.

    The most fun I had learning was at primary school, before all the subjects got all chopped up and disconnected. I was furious at having to drop art for physics at A level (and not do both), and I fought to get the most fucked up multidisciplinary B.Sc I possibly could without breaking the rules. I was surprised that there were hardly any actual scientists taking philosophy and sci journalism papers, or marketing or business. I wanted to be able to mash up an electricity & magnetism lecture with music, or take the modern physics class into the Slade to do printmaking.

    Why can’t home economics lessons be about chemistry? Why can’t needlework and string theory share a lesson? Music and resonance? I think that, certainly in the UK, the educational system is deeply flawed. We should be breeding a culture of curiosity, generalism, polymathy. Kids who grow up to bisociate the hell out of big problems with alacrity and dark, belly-rocking humour. And singing.

  5. Ah, thought I left a comment but perhaps it got swallowed by the moderation bot. Anyway, agree. Am researching a book on this next year, just not sure if it’s going to be one for adults or for children. Love to hear more of your thoughts.

  6. Pingback: Jumble Spoiler – 12/17/13 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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