Defining the Words Science and Art and their Etymology
Let’s begin by clarifying the words ‘Science’ and ‘Arts’ in the way that they are currently used, at least here in the Western world. The word science derives from the Greek root for knowledge: γνῶσις ‘gnosis’.
The etymology goes back to the Sanksrit root ‘jna’ and οἶδα ‘oida’, where in Sanskrit the root ‘vid’ becomes ‘wit’ in English and ‘wissen’ ‘to know’, in German. The word ‘Wissenschaft’ translates to science.
Now look at the word for ‘art’. In German ‘das Art und Weise’ means Method or Way. The Art as ‘form’, in German, is ‘das Kunst’, whose root ‘ken’ is still used in English dialects and forms the verb ‘kennen’ which means ‘to become acquainted with’. So you can see the words for the study of both art and science are literally, interchangeable.
500 years ago during the Italian Renaissance there were no distinctions between the study of art and science. Leonardo Da Vinci is an obvious example. His daily studies in drawing may have included a sketch for a flying machine, the direction of water flow or a study for a painting of the Madonna and child.
Up until about 150 -200 years ago a ‘scientist’, as we would coin the term today, was someone whose interest was in measuring and analysing phenomena, called a ‘Natural Philosopher’. Now we appear to have separated the arts and sciences into different categories where science is deemed the study of examining, measuring and demonstrating exact and quantifiable evidence for phenomena and the arts as the creative outpourings of thought and emotion.
Mastering an art through learning and practising a craft using tried and trusted techniques
The mastery of an art depends upon the embodied understanding of learning a craft through practice using tried and trusted techniques. All art forms are underpinned by rules and principles, which are theoretical, physical and moral. They are subject to natural laws. If one accepts these statements then the study of the arts is also scientific because the methodology is systematic and the results are evidential – the creation of a symphony, a painting, an opera, a drama, a ballet and so on.
An overview of underlying principles in some of the artistic disciplines as recognised in the West.
Here is a brief overview of some of the underlying principles of disciplines in the arts, or it may be argued, as we recognise them in the west.
Also known as classical ballet, the European classical theatrical dance form developed as a hybrid of the French danse du cour of Louis XIV and the coreodramma of the Italian theatre. It has 6 universal, physical principles of movement supported by 3 foundations of ‘non-movement’, 14 theoretical principles and 3 notions. For more details on the physical principles, watch Ballet’s Secret Code on Youtube: https://youtu.be/ZGT4g7FHSvA
The 5 ‘positions of the feet’ incorporate corresponding arms and relate to the Platonic solids. The attitude and arabesque relate to spirals and conic section and all classical dance forms aim to be balanced, proportioned and harmonious.
A capable dancer knows how to apply the ‘Least Action Principle’ to express their ideas efficiently and without strain reducing the potential for injury and exhaustion.
The six basic physical principles of movement and three of non-movement, which underpin Cecchetti’s Method of teaching classical ballet are so fundamental to the human form in activity that they can be found in most, if not all, sports, from archery to yachting.
The melodic line in music is bound by the rules of harmony, metre, and the principle of three: theme, repetition and variation. Forms include the sonata, concerto, suite or symphony. Variations on a theme may use simple repetition, modulation or rhythms derived from old dances such as the jig, sarabande, ecossaise, minuet and so on.
Music theory is necessary for maintaining the integrity of the composition. For example, melody, is the ‘horizontal’ or ‘time delineated’ aspect of music and ‘harmony’ is the ‘vertical’ or spatially delineated aspect of music.
Art and Architecture
The principles of creating an image on paper that resembles that which it seeks to reproduce or constructing a building that will not fall down, follow mathematical rules and laws of geometry. Additional rules for creating the appearance of form apply, such as how to use colour, light and shadow and vanishing perspective.
It is interesting to note that one of the tools for measuring beauty in both sacred and secular art is the use of Golden Mean ratio.
In maths this is evident in Fibonacci’s sequence and in natural forms as the spiral.
Poetry, Drama and the Written Word
Authors use vocabulary, grammar, syntax, phrase and word effects such as simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, alliteration and ‘figures of speech’ in the construction of sentences.
Below (with thanks to Gloria Moss) for providing it, is an example of how an author uses a grammatical rule-break to give an effect of creating the immediate past, in this case, using the perfect form of the verb (used to describe the recent past) where more normally you would expect the imperfect form of the verb, expressing habitual action, as in ‘I used to do….’ This gives the act of recalling the past great immediacy.
‘Longtemps/ je me suis couché de bonne heure.’
(Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu..)
Great authors know how and when to break a rule or structure, for effect because what they are trying to say may not actually be said in words -but not out of ignorance or lack of craft which it may be argued, one reads today in a culture where ‘anything goes’.
Poetry has numerous recognizable structural forms that use rhyme and metre such as iambic pentameter. Great pieces of literature, poetry and plays resonate with their audience on a higher level. The top priority of any great artist is to communicate with the audience or viewer, that idea which wishes to express itself through the pre-conscious mind. These may be thoughts, feelings and emotions for which the highly honed skills and scientific tools of the artist’s trade may provide the means to help them deliver their vision. The result may be something which the audience may not be able to put into words but may move them so profoundly that they want to return to experience this art again and again.
Here is a famous excerpt from A Midsummer Night’s Dream which illustrates these points, both technical and metaphysical, perfectly:
The poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling
Doth glance from heaven to earth from earth to heaven.
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
It may require work on the part of the audience to bring them up to that level and considerable technical skill on the part of the actor to communicate, especially in a large space where the natural speaking voice would not otherwise carry to the back of the theatre.
The Purpose of Art
‘Deus intelligentiam in animo inclusit’
God has sheathed intelligence within the soul.
Art has been said to hold up a mirror to society. Great Art communicates universal truths. It brings bring men and women together with a mutual understanding of what it is like to experience being a part of humanity, to inspire philosophical discussion and express (as mentioned above) what may be otherwise beyond words. Great artists across the centuries in all disciplines assumed from their audience, a belief in the sacred and sought to reveal the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. For that instant, they could rise above baser natures, experience joy, awe, and many other positive emotions that transcended the humdrum of day- to- day existence.
In the name of freedom of artistic expression, perhaps better described as the ‘baser self’ a tendency to self-indulgence or narcissism, the ready access to information and commodities, the ideology of consumerism and built-in obsolescence, the instant gratification fix has encouraged the disposability of the artist. As the artist is a man or woman this reflects upon the rest of society and suggests that Everyman himself is expendable.
Without a reverence for the human form as made in God’s image could it be suggested that the sanctity of human life is no longer observed?
In my opinion there are many problems in the teaching, creation and performance of most if not all western art forms today and as my experience is in classical ballet, so this art form will be used to illustrate some of the problems that I have encountered. The question in larger context posed is this: If artists are seen as holding up a mirror to society, do their creations reflect where society is heading? Chillingly, if we observe around us the results of the trends in modern art, music, architecture and theatre performance are they predicting its future as a dystopian nightmare?
To illustrate what I consider to be a strong visual and aural example of where society could be heading (and one potential agenda for the future of mankind?) watch the clip below from the ballet Chroma, By Wayne McGregor: (Viewer discretion advised)
There has been a rapid breakdown of the aesthetic and moral codes in the theatre and major vocational dance schools worldwide over the past 30 years. These include the throwing out of the most basic principles that have been the basis of classical ballet training for more than a century.
The film made for YouTube called Ballet’s Secret Code, (which can also be found in essay form on this website), highlights the problems and proposing some solutions. Even without publicity or commercial endorsement and a niche audience, the film has met a receptive and wide- reaching audience with hundreds of comments that have shown that there are many other people who agree that there is a lot wrong with not only ballet but also in many other arts, sports and related disciplines.
Ballet as a Spectator Sport and observations on other Art forms
Watching how the art of the classical ballet has declined into a spectator sport that borders on soft porn is distressing. Then there is the classical ballet’s ‘ugly stepsister’, contemporary dance, whose intent on promoting the un-beautiful, gender fluidity, sadism and many other kinds of perversion is perhaps not far off demonic ritual. These problems can also be seen in the destruction of classical music where for the sake of effect a ‘musical composition’ is reduced to ear-shattering electronic noise devoid of melody or harmonic coherence. Mark Devlin in his books ‘Musical Truths’, discusses the issues with song creation in the popular music industry. He goes into detail about the problems with khz re-tuning from 432 to a non- harmonic frequency of 440, and the resulting neurological effects that this may have on the human system.
If one makes a visit to a ‘modern art’ exhibition they may encounter mystifying installations or scribbles on canvas, which are explained away with psychobabble or clever words to make the viewer feel either stupid and uninformed or emotionally stimulated, if not intellectually appeased. On more than one occasion the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes often springs to mind. We are by now quite used to seeing the results of a bright young thing parading their cow in formaldehyde or an unmade bed.
I propose this: Could the past few decades spent in the theatre, the concert hall and the modern art galleries be showing on a wider scale how our systems are all breaking down?
The rapid destruction of methodology underpinning every technique in the performing, audio and visual arts. Is this deliberate?
Without a technique based on scientific principles that work with and respect the human forms of man and woman, no artist can attain a level of competency that can allow them to pursue their craft efficiently, safely and creatively.
In the case of classical ballet training there used to be an emphasis on learning the large vocabulary of steps which can be used in the same way as words are used to create ideas and stories. The steps are accessible to most practitioners when they are taught with respect to human anatomy but they do require much skill and time to learn. Over the past thirty years, at least three – quarters of the extant step vocabulary and nearly all the mime gestures, have disappeared in favour of the voyeuristic display of pretty muscles, gymnastic contortion and sensational technical tricks.
Appealing to the Senses or Engaging with the Mind?
“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.”
When you watch a truly uplifting performance (not just a sensational event) there is the feeling of being part of something greater than yourself and you may be deeply moved although you do not know why. We have a mind and the job of the artist is to use all the tools and craft at their disposal to engage with that mind. The instant visual perception is 10% of what may be conveyed through non-verbal means. Unfortunately in the theatre today, when the artists have lesser developed faculties of technique and communication they may resort instead to gimmickry and sex-appeal. The appeal is to the senses only, not to the higher mind, capable of perception on other levels. The audience is hypnotised into believing that what they are seeing is art. Clever, modern-looking and appealing to the senses but also leading the Muses on a path to oblivion.
The interference of lab science and bio-technology
Another major problem in ballet, which could be a prophetic indicator of where society seems to be heading, is the interference of lab science and bio-technology. It is not all negative though! On the positive side there are mechanical and digital technologies that have made the theatre a safer place to work in. Dancers train on tailor- made dance floors, wear comfortable and durable pointeshoes, lighter costumes, have better nutrition…. yet still, the injuries abound.
A hundred years ago, dancers had poorer nutrition, no central heating or hot showers with which to restore their bodies after performing, uncomfortable costumes, treacherous floors and other hazardous stage conditions and almost useless blocked toe shoes for pointework. Even so, and with the exception of accidents and eventual wear and tear of the body, dancers had considerably longer careers than they do today. Mature artists remained in the companies for decades to work as character artists and teachers. For example, Enrico Cecchetti, whose Method is behind the film Ballet’s Secret Code was born in the dressing room of a theatre in 1850 and spent his childhood touring around Europe and America with his parents. He had a professional dancing career from the age of 16 until his mid 40’s then continued to work as a Mime and ballet master for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, teaching in England and Italy until the day he died at the age of 78, in Milan.
Not seeing the Wood for the Trees?
Instead of examining the ballet class for its content, or lack thereof, the sports scientists rush in to stick electronic devices on the dancers to measure their fitness, bone density and propensity for injury and the remedial team prescribe complicated regimes of complimentary exercises which have nothing to do with improving actual ballet technique in the ballet class! In fact, for one British ballet company there is an army trainer who has been recruited to improve the ‘fitness’ of the dancers. As another example, in Berlin, Germany the director who prefers tall and very thin, hyper-mobile dancers, hired a nutritionist to plan diets to maintain their extreme thinness and try to reduce the potential for repetitive strain injuries which are prevalent amongst these types of dancers.
Today, in spite of sports medicine and innumerable therapies, still the average age for retirement of a professional ballet dancer is under 30 and for at least 80%, this is often due to chronic injury.
Are dancers to be ‘thrown away’?
There appears to be a lack of respect for the artist as a multi- faceted man or woman, boy or girl. Beyond that which is seen and felt, is the dancer no more than just a moving mannequin? It begs the question, does one throw out their Ideas with them?
Who and what, then, is left?!
What else is being thrown out?
The End of an Era?
The last of the teachers who had inherited the old traditions have now passed and much of their knowledge has either not been retained or taught. In the case for ballet training there is the prevailing fashion for gymnastics and tricks rather than step technique. The art of classical ballet is therefore experiencing a massive entropy and appears to be going into an irreversible decline. Perhaps this is the same for the other arts and certainly, looking at the ugly buildings in our cities, the unpleasant, repetitive noise of modern music, the incoherence and inanity of much modern fiction and theatre, the bafflingly awful scribbles and pretensions in modern art and the lowest common denominator standards in education, societal entropy appears to be speeding up.
Is there a Solution?
It appears that we are reaching a breaking point in our post- modern, post – structuralist society and 1000 years of art in western civilisation- of Dante, da Vinci, Shakespeare… are to be destroyed in favour of ‘technological progress’. On top of all of this, much of the population of the west apparently is not only completely oblivious to the very existence of their cultural treasures but also to the monumental changes in society happening all around them!
Old systems outlive their worth and must in their turn break down. How a new system emerges depends on the character of the men and women who retain the wisdom of that which came before and they will once more form a ‘God fearing’ society which is based on true knowledge and high moral codes of behaviour.
The deliberate cultural destruction of Western civilisation?
In the short term it is vital that an ark be created to preserve the wisdom and treasures of western civilisation as it faces ongoing cultural and societal upheavals.
On a local level, teachers in education and the arts must provide their pupils with a moral compass and stick to it themselves, discriminating what to teach that is of true value and not just blindly follow the diktats of society or the prevailing cultural and political fashions of the institutions to which they may belong. They have a duty to educate their pupils in what is right and wrong so that these young artists can discriminate as they grow up. Moral ambiguity has no place in the classroom.
Great literature and drama invariably show how good must triumph over evil and by these standards we can show our offspring how they too can make the right choices in their lives. In this way they will develop critical thinking during their apprenticeship or vocational training and receive an education that goes much further than simply showing up for class each day and being spoon fed half- baked techniques based on whim and fashionable opinions, having thrown out the scientific principles and methodology that underpinned their art for centuries along the way.
In the long term, one solution may be to educate our offspring in alternative education systems that respect natural Laws and- at the risk of being taken to task in outlining the need for maintaining a scientific or methodological approach to mastering an art form of any kind- the belief in, and Will of God. There are several methods of alternative education and these systems generally exist outside of the mainstream institutions*. They aim to counteract the current nihilistic, life-hating, fear-based, ‘throw-away’ culture that is prevalent in most societies of the western world.
It may also be time to revisit the education systems of the past and these could in their way, guide a new generation of nascent artists.
Look to the Past to find a solution for the future
If we look to any spiritual text, from the Bible to the Upanishads, men and women are created in the image of their Creator, to live by and with moral codes for the protection of their families and betterment of themselves. Every soul is urged to go out and actively participate in the ongoing creation. In the case of the next generation of artists and the rebirth of true art, as outlined in the definition made at the start of this enquiry, the traditional knowledge must be preserved and handed down to every one of them.
Who knows when the next Leonardo or Mozart may be born to gift the world with their life affirming art!
‘Ruupam, ruupam, pratiruupo babhuva tadasya ruupam praticaksanaayaha’
‘He was the model for each and every form, that form of His is for the purpose of His manifestations’
Rig Veda 6, 47, 18 In Praise of Indra
Here is a quote from the Danish choreographer August Bournonville, himself a true genius of the ballet, a deeply religious man, auto didact and twice exiled from Denmark, his own country! His Choreographic Credo addresses dancers but in a wider sense, surely includes all other artists urging that:
‘They regard their laborious art as a link in the chain of beauty….. and this is turn, as an important element in the spiritual development of nations’.
Link to Bournonville’s Tarantella, from Act 3 of Napoli, The Royal Danish Ballet 1986:
*John Taylor Gatto’s books Dumbing Us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction go into detail about the failure of the mainstream education systems in the USA and propose solutions, similarly UK based David Adelman outlines problems and solutions in his book School: No Place for Children