Progress!

Currently I’m reading Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things. So far it’s excellent, and while he was writing about science’s progressive nature, he mentions other areas that don’t share similar goals:

Pseudoscience, nonscience, superstition, myth, religion, and art are not progressives because they do not have goals or mechanisms that allow the accumulation of knowledge that builds on the past. Their paradigms either do not shift or coexist with other paradigms. Progress, in the cumulative sense, is not their purpose. This is not a criticism, just an observation. Artists do not improve upon styles of their predecessors; they invent new styles. (Shermer, 40)

I hate that art is lumped in with pseudoscience, but I can’t deny that art is a vehicle by which knowledge–any knowledge, factual or fictional, good, bad or in-between–is passed from person to person, and it’s always up to the artists involved to build their works from whatever passes through and comes to settle in their brains. It could be fascination with the world–like this Red Eye works-in-progress piece inspired by Carl Sagan and the Voyager Golden Records. Other works may build on myth and religion like 7-Shot Symphony. A play might even be built around the life of John Edwards, though you’d be hard pressed to find me in the audience.

Certainly artistic disciplines and styles progress even as new ones are created, but is Shermer correct that progress is not the artist’s purpose? What I continually look for in any art is it’s capacity to open me to the wonders and vastness of the world, and I think when science and art combine for that purpose, amazing theatre can happen.

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