Date of Award

2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Regional Professional Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Lorna Kaino

Second Advisor

Dr Anthea Hill

Abstract

This thesis examines the role of the artist at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It focuses on the interaction between art and science in an exploration of the dialectical processes that may occur in that interaction. Researchers have recently developed techniques in stem cell technology and genetic modification that offer remarkable potential and bring possible advantages and disadvantages for scientists and the wider community. In response to these new technologies, scientists and artists have developed collaborative projects and, in some instances, artists have moved from the studio to the science laboratory to create work called sci-art, bio-art, or moistmedia. This new inter-disciplinary activity affords prospects of dialectical processes: it crosses many boundaries and disturbs some existing conventions and practices, and, for the artists involved, the access to innovative materials has moved their work into areas of new skills and concepts. The extent to which traditional artists and those with collaborative sci-art practices contribute to the debate on important social and cultural issues forms part of this study. The research data was gathered during semi-structured interviews with scientists and artists, of whom three scientists and five artists are involved in sci-art collaborations. Proposed dialectical processes identified in the data are outlined throughout the document. A discussion about the ways in which contemporary art and artists are located within the current social and cultural environment; the status accorded visual art education today; and the manner in which commentators and other members of the public regard the elements and functions of art, forms the initial framework. This is followed by an overview of biologically based art practices, worldwide, that provides a background for a discussion of sci-art collaborations. These collaborations are initiated by a wide range of individuals and organisations and, according to the participants, the intentions of the originator or funding body have the potential to influence the outcome of the collaboration. The research explores possible conflicts of interest between the parties involved in these interactions, and any perceived implications for creative freedom. This study also examines current attitudes towards the notion of creativity in science and art, the avant-garde, and the relevance of philosophy and theory in art practices. It discusses the extent to which technology influences the creative process, and highlights issues that augment, interrogate or philosophise about the role of the contemporary artist. The research found that, although the notion of Snow’s ‘two cultures’ still has supporters, there are more similarities than dissimilarities between scientists and artists. Although some instances of Hegelian dialectical processes were identified, the data residing in many of the participants’ responses called for a more post-structuralist, non-linear approach to the dialectic as described by Jervis (1998), Janesick (2000) and others. In this way, the data drew attention to many complex issues and tensions that emanate from the interaction between art, science, technology, government and commerce, and the interaction between artists and the culture and society in which they live at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

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