The merit of painting lies in the exactness of reproduction – Painting is a science, and all sciences are based on mathematics – Leonardo Da Vinci
I like to think that one indolent afternoon, man decided to start exploring the world known to him. He drew creatures he saw on the walls of his caves and imitated the sounds they made. Another languorous afternoon, tired of recording what he saw, he decided to experiment. He rubbed two stones together and created fire. He drew inspiration from nature – probably saw a smooth round boulder and created the wheel.
This evolution from one small step to another took thousands of years. His grunts became words, his words became language, his screams became music and his wheels became an automobile. He conquered and invented, created and destroyed and so on and so forth, until he came to be the overlord of all things on earth that he could fathom with the naked eye.
But man’s curiosity is insatiable, and since we became masters of the known, we became more and more drawn to all things abstract. These abstract ideas eventually became the corner stones of what guided our intellectual growth. I have written earlier about the advent of science, art and literature simultaneously, but the question we must ask is – what prompted this togetherness?
Man’s intrigue with the abstruse concept of infinity started when he looked up at the night sky. Pioneered by a few men like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, over the last few decades, we have asked these questions more loudly and vociferously than ever before. The idea of exploring deep space and searching for the unknown, of understanding the concept of infinity has fired our imaginations time and again.
A similar transcendental idea surfaced in artistic circles around this time. Painting was no longer about perfect reproduction as Da Vinci believed. It was about exploring the unknown realms of giving color to a number or an emotion – Can the number “5” simply be red, or the number “3” simply be blue?
As it turns out, the answer is a resounding “Yes”! Research in neuroscience has shed light on a condition called “Synesthesia” – A condition 8 times more common in poets, artists and novelists than the common population. People with this condition, see numbers with their own hues. Could this imply that science can unlock the secrets to creativity?
I believe that Jackson Pollock was gifted with this insight. He pioneered an age of absolute indefiniteness in art. While people were more attracted to the eccentric personality that he projected, his greatness lay in the understanding that painting didn’t necessarily need to have a tangible meaning. It was about simply observing something that made you think of a particular event, color or emotion. Definitions in his world were redundant.
When mankind is about to make a leap into the next stage of evolution, there is one section of the population that pioneers this surge way ahead of its time. This spawns imitation and moneymaking schemes at first, but ultimately this is what heralds us into a new era. Pollock was one such artist, who opened the doors to a new thought process.
The shift of literature occurred in much the same way as the shift in science and art. However, since words are easier to evolve than art or science, this shift started over a hundred years ago, with the man I consider to be the father of modern literature- Jules Verne. His ideas, and thoughts were fantastic from the get go. From “Twenty thousand leagues under the sea”, to “Journey to the center of the Earth” his work is not just fantasy; it is a revelation to both science and literature. An indication of scientific progress – if we care to see it. Jules Verne, in my mind, was the next Leonardo da Vinci – A man who thought eons ahead of his time. Since Jules Verne, a multitude of abstract ideas took hold of our race, ranging from Ayn Rand to Salman Rushdie.When Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in 1865, or when J.M.Barrie introduced us to Peter Pan and Neverland in 1902, we were ushered into an era of boundless creative energy that was no longer restricted by observations.
Science, art, and literature walked hand in hand into this epoch, and without one, the other can never completely exist. A perfect example of their co-existence in harmony is a dewdrop on the tip of a blade of grass. Not only is this phenomenon a dream rendition for an artist, its scientific implications and gravity defying behavior, are astounding to behold.
In one of his talks at Princeton University, Dr. Aloke Kumar (my arch nemesis) compared an image of a coagulation of bacteria in a fluid medium, to a Jackson Pollock painting. My first instinct was to raise hell, condemning this comparison of bacteria and Pollock!
However, I had to admit that the correlation was a wonderful way to draw attention to the fact that science and art are meant to grow synchronously. They make each other grow and evolve. Inspire and perspire. Without one, the other would have an asymmetrical existence.
I conclude this, my most recondite article with a parting phrase that David Hare once wrote about Jackson Pollock:
“The man who deals with originality is desperately needed, but seldom wanted. For along with his promise of victory, he lets loose the shadows of chaos.”
As we pause to ponder through our peregrinations, we must leap and unleash chaos onto one-dimensional thinking and bridge the chasm between science and art – the two indispensible cornerstones of our existence.