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Alan Davey

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The Art of Science

Posted: 19/01/2012 23:00

It was while listening to Professor Brian Cox on Desert Island Discs that it came to me.

Cox, megabrain, poster boy for the sexing up of science and once a member of synth band D:Ream, said that whenever he saw the prime minister he would ask: "how can we ensure that Britain is the best place to do science?"

It's a pertinent question, and one that mirrors the question I'm continually asking government ministers: "how can we ensure Britain is the best place to do the arts?"

Essentially we are both asking how we can make Britain more innovative and creative, which led me to question how science and the arts could work together to bring this about.

The big scientific questions of our time are already occupying artists, from choreographer Wayne MacGregor, whose work frequently emerges from his study of neuroscience by exploring connections between the brain, body, perception and movement; to Simon McBurney and Complicite's A Disappearing Number, an absorbing and brilliant drama about string theory or Constellations, a play about quantum multiverse theory currently being performed at the Royal Court.

But what links scientific and artistic practice goes beyond artists adopting scientific themes.

Both art and science require a great deal of work to acquire the skills required to be good at them. Both depend on challenging accepted ideas, on pushing back the boundaries of truth and uncertainty and exploring the unknown. Both involve changing the world around us and presenting the public with something they couldn't have imagined.

The cutting edge of the arts, like the cutting edge of science, may seem obscure and abstruse. But out of this research and development come remarkable discoveries that can have an impact on artistic practice and how those who encounter the work see and experience the world. The kind of art the Arts Council funds, developed in, say, the Battersea Arts Centre or the studios of the National Theatre, will have an impact on standard artistic practice for years to come.

Overall, what connects art and science is that they are - or should be - about realising something marvellous, possibly beautiful, that was previously unknown. They are both about challenging orthodoxy and furthering human endeavour and understanding. With a leap of imagination and the coming together of great scientific and creative minds I believe the potential is there to unlock and expand our understanding of maths, music, physics, dance, perception, and the explanation of who we are in the universe.

So I'd like to see scientists and artists get together more, not only to explore new ideas but to make a joint case to the government and the public about how together we contribute to the sum of human knowledge. How together we could turn the UK into the home for new ideas and in turn change the world. Would eminent scientists join with eminent artists to make the case for science and the arts? Perhaps it's worth a try.