Christopher Potter

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Collectivism of science

By Christopher Potter, Aug 9 2014 09:28AM

The wonderful K Clark exhibit at Tate Britain is coming down after this weekend. I've been thinking about something Clark said in one of the old documentaries being film-looped there. He says that great art is decided upon by a small section of society. True, but then he casually adds, 'and science too'. I was trying to think why the collectivism of science is different from the tribalism of art. What's different is that even non-scientists (which is almost everybody) buy into scientific progress by default merely by living in the modern world. Everyone who uses an i-phone, a television or a washing machine has effectively signed up to the collective proof that is the scientific method, irregardless of whatever public pronounements such people might make. It occurs to me that this is where terrorists who rail against the West also fail. By posting their propaganda on social media sites (and in Nike sneakers) their arguments have already been drained of any moral force. Beyond any images of atrocious acts is the evidence that they have already lost.

Art is different. I say tribal because disagreeing is part of the deal as much as agreeing is. We might belong to the tribe that likes Renoir (Clark did, I don't) and to the tribe that likes (Victor Pasmore - much admired by Clark, and now through his eyes much admired by me). These tribes overlap in complex ways and that complexity is the social world we live in. Sometimes the tribes become almost the whole world, and might indeed become the whole world if we were ever threatened by alien invaders. A sad truth of humans that to show our solidarity it might have to come to that. Our final gesture as humans might be to die as one. The ultimate deathbed conversion.

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