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The great scientific art-grab

[ by Charles Cameron — a poet’s rant against the hubris of scientists and the poverty of so much of what passes for art ]

Gorgeous. And fascinating.


I’d like to begin by saying beauty is not the same as prettiness any more than joy is the same as fun or truth than popular opinion. In fact I have an aphorism:

if you shoot for beauty, you’re liable to hit prettiness; if you want to achieve beauty, shoot for truth.

Okay? The beautiful can be grotesque, utterly normal, joyously peaceful, extremely violent, or simply gorgeous — and be beautiful in each case.

Having said that, I’d also like to say that the world, the universe in all it immense scope and scale and variety and possibility, isn’t “science” or “art” — we find science in exploring it one way, find art in exploring it another.

And when scientists want to impress, they often do it by choosing elements of beauty in what science has recorded of a universe that is neither science nor art but seamlessly filled to the brim with both — by appealing to our aesthetic taste, to the “art” side of our being, while claiming the result is science.


Case in point:

The graphic above, from the I fucking love science photo timeline on FaceBook, which comes with the caption:

Caddisfly larvae build protective cases using materials found in their environment. Artist Hubert Duprat supplied them with gold leaf and precious stones. This is what they created.

Did you get that? It’s from a site that bills itself I fucking love science that specializes in presenting, how can I make this simple, nature’s art. It’s the recognition of beauty that makes this site so wonderful — and in this particular case, the work of Artist Hubert Duprat.


I’ve been working with jewelry recently, and as you can see from this image of a Hematite “Tricubi” necklace by Bernd Wolf, the influence goes both ways.


What is beauty? And why does science as an institution so often want to claim what properly belongs in the realm of art? Or is science, perhaps, an art or cluster of arts? I’m tired of these ceaseless wranglings between two supposedly opposing cultures.

Paul Dirac:

I think that there is a moral to this story, namely that it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations that to have them fit experiment.

As art, the jewel-like protective cases those caddisfly larvae make are simply beautiful. The fact that they make them is fascinating.

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