Leonard Shlain, a surgeon from California, began this project after visiting an art museum with his young daughter. He realized that in the cases of s...moreLeonard Shlain, a surgeon from California, began this project after visiting an art museum with his young daughter. He realized that in the cases of some modern works, he could not explain to her why they qualified as "art" at all! What, he wondered, was modern art trying to communicate, and why was so much of modern art difficult to comprehend?
Shlain concluded after extensive research that "the radical innovations of art embody the preverbal stages of new concepts" concerning the nature of reality. Art and Physics explores how different styles of art (from ancient times to the modern era) have treated space, time, and light; then compares the artistic vision to the work of scientists trying to grasp those same concepts. He believes that artists have often portrayed ideas about, for example, the nature of light or the relativity of space before physicists arrived at those same ideas.
If artists really are unknowingly creating works that anticipate cutting-edge physics, what could explain such prescience? (Pardon the pun.) That question pulls Shlain into metaphysical territory. He suggests that the existence of a universal mind -"an overarching, disembodied universal consciousness that binds and organizes the power generated by every person's thoughts" - could explain "how an artist can incorporate ideas into his or her work that have not as yet been discovered by physicists and that are certainly unknown to the general public."
The strengths of this book are that it is very readable and that it assembles incredibly wide-ranging material into a coherent narrative. However, I doubt that an expert in physics or in art would be entirely satisfied with Shlain's exposition. The book's subject is simply too broad for its thesis to be rigorously supported.(less)