The comments on beauty and science have interested me — I see the virtue in many of these viewpoints.
My purpose in posting Richard Feynman’s comment was that I was puzzled and irked by the notion that scientists do not understand beauty. If I were prepared to make a long, detailed post, I could offer a great many examples — not of scientists creating or producing beauty, but rather of scientists understanding beauty much as any artist, musician, or dancer does. To say that scientists employ beauty and elegance as a criterion in their evaluation of ideas is different than saying scientists *create* beauty. While the scientists or mathematicians creating a theory may wish to create something beautiful, I was describing the reception and understanding of beauty by scientists and mathematicians appreciating the beauty of work by *other* scientists and mathematicians.
This week, I am on a quick visit to relatives in New York City and New London, Connecticut. In the early 1800s, New London was the third most important whaling port in the world. We’re staying about a ten minute walk from a now-nonexistent childhood home built by a retired sea captain who shipped out with Yankee rock for ballast and returned from many voyages with hardwood ballast from which he built our home. As we drive around, I look at historic houses from the Federalist era — a style of architecture that always appealed to me. Others prefer other styles. I am dedicated to several schools of architecture from several nations and cultures … There are many kinds of beauty and many ways to understand them.
In reading that scientists have a problem understanding beauty, I was put off by what I saw as an inaccurate and simplistic comment.
I liked Jerry’s St. Thomas recap, and I appreciated Susan attempt at a summary. Earlier, Susan mentioned Clement Greenberg. To me, Greenberg is a perfect example of someone who did and did not understand beauty. His 1961 book Art and Culture is a brilliant, beautifully written discussion of contemporary art from a man who was perceptive — and an authoritarian, narrow view of art written by a man who limited in vision because he was locked into a view of the world from his own time and place. It’s hard for me to see Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning among the great artists of the 20th century — they might be, but I don’t see it, bot on the level of the French modern monsters with whom Greenberg ranks them. And there is no way that I would place the enthusiasms of the aging Greenberg on the level he placed them — for example, the Color Field painters like Jules Olitski and Kenneth Noland. So let’s say this is all opinion about how we understand beauty. Why would anyone say that Clement Greenberg knows more about beauty, say, than Richard Feynman or Eric Kandel. Of course, Kandel has more sympathy for de Kooning and Pollock than I do, so perhaps he and Greenberg are right while I lack understanding.
At any rate, I was not talking about *creating* beauty, but understanding it. That’s what caught my eye.
If we talk about *creating* beauty, I’d have to think yet again. Even so, I’ll go out on a limb here to say that Kurt Gödel was better able to create beauty than Kenneth Noland. Noland made pleasant paintings that fit the market in a certain time. If you look at them today, you see a kind of relic of the era. Gödel thought deeply to create beautiful ideas that reverberate still, and remain as lively and enchanting as they ever were. Gödel, like Pablo Picasso, Ludwig Wittgenstein, or Emily Dickinson, was a giant figure of modern culture whose work sheds light on what it is to be human. Noland exemplifies what Marcel Duchamp meant when he make jokes about retinal painting, art painted by someone whom Duchamp would label “dumb like a painter.”
To me, Clement Greenberg’s enthusiasm for the color painters says that something was missing in Greenberg’s understanding of beauty. Greenberg’s theory of art overwhelmed his ability to see and to understand.
But what do I know?
Ken Friedman, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/she-ji-the-journal-of-design-economics-and-innovation/
Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| Email [log in to unmask] | Academia http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman | D&I http://tjdi.tongji.edu.cn
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