Sol LeWitt

I was in a room full of people who are deeply committed to knocking down C.P. Snow’s problem of The Two Cultures. To be sure, not everyone in the room was old enough or widely read enough to be familiar with Snow’s famous lecture.

Yet every single one of them would wholeheartedly agree, if asked, that we need to find a way to bridge the great divide between the Arts and the Sciences. Further, they would say that their own work is largely an attempt to bridge that very divide.

Yet a problem with all such efforts is that everyone inevitably comes in with some sort of bias, and the nature of your own bias is that you can’t see it. In this case, most of the participants are coming to the conversation from a strong background in the sciences.

This really hit home for me when somebody got up to speak — one of the rare individuals who has put in the effort required to be equally conversant in “Art-talk” and “Science-talk”. She started describing the work of Sol LeWitt, and then casually asked how many people were familiar with his work.

To my immense surprise and disappointment, almost nobody in the room knew who he was.

Trying to think of an analogy going the other way, I likened it in my mind to a group of artists intent on bridging the art/science divide in the use of procedural techniques, and none of them knowing the names “John von Neumann” or “Jim Blinn”.

And I was forced to admit to myself that it would be very difficult for me to convince my own computer science department to include a for-credit course about LeWitt or the other proceduralists.

Clearly something is very wrong here. But I’m not sure what to do about it.

3 Responses to “Sol LeWitt”

  1. And what of us social scientists, ragged and rangy, who knew neither LeWitt nor Blinn? What on earth can we contribute to this debate? Perhaps we shall report the results…

    Thanks for the pointers – I now (courtesy of wikipedia) have a smattering of knowledge about two more influential people.

  2. sally says:

    Make the CS students take an art class. Make the art students learn about CS. It is just that people don’t know how to go outside their disciplines to learn and more critically, the disciplines themselves don’t make it easy either due to course restrictions for the degree (uni policies) or other dumb budgety things that govern all decisions everywhere forever and ever.

  3. Hitoshi Yamauchi says:

    I also didn’t know about Sol LeWitt, but famous artists use mathematics in their works. For example, Gala Contemplating by SalFvador DalĂ­, The Musical Offering by J.S. Bach, Michisane Sugawara uses Hirbert curve in his writing, M. C. Escher’s works, Shane Koyczan’s poem has gravity and love, and so on. I think these are natural for them by their criterion of beauty, since one of the understanding ways of the world is science, and the world has beauty.

    I think everyday life has beauty and every day life has science. When you drink a glass of wine, there are bubbles, that comes from fermentation, biology, chemical reaction, and so on. (You may know this is R.P Feymann’s phisics course) I took a cup of Cappuccino this afternoon, that has convection which makes a beautiful patterns. Actually if you like Japanese dish, watch a Miso soup, that is beautoiful. One of the good speaker of this is Vi Hart and Torahiko Terada.

    So I think we can start to make our eyes open wider. I think you can see science and beauty everywhere, that can be a motivation of the art. The idea of science and art are different may causes the problem. I see there is such idea (separation), but where does it comes from? It seems originally they are the same. Liberal arts had math, logic, music, rhetoric..

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