When I was at school, after the age of 16 we were divided strictly into 'artists' and 'scientists'. Scientists sat down one side of the sixth-form common room, drank tea and played bridge; artists sat down the other, drank coffee and played music. With the exception of my friend Claire, it was unheard of for students to be able to mix humanities and science subjects; my request to study biology, for example, was turned down on the grounds that it was impossible to combine this with English, History and Art - I would have to study all the sciences, or none. With the post-16 British school curriculum still being extremely narrow, these attitudes still persist today, despite all of the disadvantages this creates for society.
However, my recent involvement with science has taught me that in reality artists and scientists have a great deal in common, and this far outweighs our differences. We are both concerned with understanding the meaning of life; we are both concerned with close observation of life in order to record it and derive meaning from it; we both depend on our imagination and creativity to develop our work; and we both require a personality - and probably a genetic heritage - which allows obsessive and compulsive behaviour in order to meet the requirements of our practice. Oh, and we're both - Trust Fund babes apart - obsessed with money, because our ability to work depends on it. The polarisation of artists and scientists is therefore extremely unhelpful, because of the barriers, misunderstandings and lack of respect for each other that it generates.
Something else that is fundamental to the practice of both art and science is the questioning of deeply held beliefs about life, also known as 'facts'. Throughout history, scientists have faced imprisonment and death because they have challenged everything from a belief that the earth is flat to the 'fact' that it was created in seven days. Both artists and scientists are expert in rattling cages.
Animal testing has been fundamental to medical research science, and still lies behind most medical research today. Even where scientists are working with cell lines, these have originated with laboratory animals. Today, though, this research takes place behind locked doors and is hidden from view.
All of us - artists, scientists, accountants and even surfers - live in cages, of our own or others making. Some of us are happy to remain there; others are not.
© Ju Gosling aka ju90 2008
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