In a 1958 lecture at Cambridge, novelist C.P. Snow coined the term ‘The Two Cultures’ to describe what he felt was a growing gap between the sciences and the arts. For better or worse, the ‘Two Cultures’ image of the Sciences and the Arts as completely separate worlds has become the accepted stereotype in Australian culture.
There are indeed key differences between the disciplines of science and art. The professional industries are structured differently, the career trajectories for artists and scientists trace different paths, and the work itself uses different skills.
These differences create challenges for interdisciplinary collaborations. Science-art projects do sometimes founder upon unexpected challenges and blocks, different expectations or attitudes, and gaps in shared language. Despite these difficulties, there have always been science-art collaborations, and since the early 1990s, the frequency and visibility of these interdisciplinary projects have been growing.
UK artist Heather Barnett is one of a growing number of practitioners who create work exclusively at the intersection between science and art. As well as creating her own work inspired by biological design and self-organising systems, Barnett teaches university courses on science-art at Central St Martins and the University of Westminster.
She explains: ‘At this point, art and science is now if not its own discipline, its own field. Disciplines are defined by methods and intentions and contexts and I think art-science is interdisciplinary; the research methodologies it uses are amalgamations or hybrids. Some work is dominant within a domain: some art-science projects are driven by artistic ideals and practices, some by science processes and mindsets.’
This growing community of interdisciplinary science-art practitioners make up what editor John Brockman calls ‘The Third Culture’.