When an artist ponders a flower, what is observed? What does an scientist see? Here’s Richard Feynman’s take on it:
Richard Feynman physicist, teacher, musician, was brilliant in many regards and his remarks for this animated piece came from a much longer interview with the BBC.
I’d like to explore this seeming dichotomy between the artist’s vision and scientist’s quest for understanding, because I think Feynman’s take on how an artist experiences a flower misses something important. The way I hear Feynman’s comments, he’s basically arguing that while the artist is concerned primarily with beauty, or the world of the senses, science is concerned with context, meaning and knowledge, or the world of the mind. And he seems to imply that science brings “value added,” or a deeper understanding of the essence of flower and its place the natural order of things. So is science more worthy that art?
I don’t want to get too abstract here, but I think the artist brings much more to the table than Feynman perceives. Art works on so many levels… there’s the flower’s shape, form, color, smell, taste, texture… all that our senses tell us. They’re very inviting, these aspects of how we interact with the world. Art tries to capture them.
There’s the space the flower inhabits. In the photo above, no longer is it just a flower, but it exists in a ambience of contemplation… inviting us to muse, make associations, or perhaps just experience a quiet moment. Visually, the soft focus of the background adds a little mystery. Where is this space? Who tends this garden?
Going still deeper, the flower conjures emotions and images… birth, passion, awakening to a new day, the freshness of morning dew…
The peony’s shape is so enveloping… you can imagine the bud gently opening… in slow motion… each petal revealing a deeper sense of flower unfolding.
The artist’s work transforms our perceptions… their view is often dreamy, instinctive, almost pre-verbal… but their vision invites us to see the world with new eyes.
What I’m trying to get to is that the search for meaning flows in different directions at the same time. There is the scientist’s passion for knowledge and the effort to understand the flower’s place in the natural world that propels Feynman. There is the artist’s quest to explore an emotional, sensual and perhaps symbolic relationship with the flower and connect it to our humanity. To tell us something about ourselves and our place in the world.
Between science and art there are so many connections to be made.
The intellect and the emotions bring us different ways of seeing and understanding. Both are essential to teaching us how to inhabit the world. And together they make our lives deeper and richer. That’s what I wanted to say to Feynman. That it’s not either/or… we need and should embrace both.
If you’d like to explore more about Richard Feynman, here’s a link to Feynman Online. And in the current political debate about fiscal priorities, I hope our leaders will remember the value that art and science brings to our lives.