Miller, professor emeritus of history and philosophy of science at University College London, studies the blurring boundaries between science and art in Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science Is Redefining Contemporary Art.
What prompted you to write this book now?
My interest has always in the nature of things and how creativity works. In my books on Einstein and Picasso, I started to notice the ways that visual imagery was so important to each of them and how each thought in these terms. So, this book brings together a lot of the work I’ve been doing. Many physicists use visual imagery to illustrate symmetry and beauty, and I wanted to show in this new book how visual imagery weaves like Ariadne’s thread through art and science. In the interviews with artists and scientists that I conducted over about a year and a half, I found a new art movement, a new fusion of art, science, and technology. This new art movement resembles the avant-garde of the early 20th-century, and in the book I point to a moment in New York in 1966, at the opening night of an exhibit called 9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering that was the first ever large-scale gathering of artists, engineers, and scientists. In this book, I spoke with artists who collaborated with scientists in making their art.
You call this new form “artsci.” How is it redefining our ideas about aesthetics?
We tend to think of art as subjective; the artist paints or draws or creates out of his her own vision of beauty and symmetry. The artsci projects in the book illustrate that aesthetics are more objectifiable and not subjective. That is, for example, there is beauty in a mathematical equation when each element of it is symmetrical, but that beauty is objective and not subjective, since the components of the equation must balance in order for there to be symmetry and beauty. More important, artsci alters our ideas about intuition. Intuition is based not on some random, impalpable feeling but rather is based on and grows out of experience.
Artsci calls for a closer collaboration between art and science. How can we achieve this in our culture?
Well, curricula must be dramatically transformed. One example where this is happening is the NYU Media Lab, where art, science, and technology are all being taught. Art can follow the example of the sciences, too. Unification is going on the sciences and new areas in science emerge constantly, and art will follow along in areas like media art, computer art, visual art, and sound art.
What lessons would you like readers to take from your book?
I’m excited about this new art movement; it’s part of our cultural history. Something’s going on here that people should be aware of and excited about; it’s like our own avant-garde movement. Artsci reveals to us these new art forms and new concepts of beauty and symmetry; I hope readers will explore this collaboration between art and science and rethink their ideas of aesthetics.