Friday, July 2, 2010

When 'Art' Becomes 'Science' and 'Science' 'Art': Charles Biederman and Alfred Korzybski

In October 1948, Charles Biederman’s long-awaited, lavishly illustrated, 710 page Art As The Evolution of Visual Knowledge appeared. Some people might feel puzzled to find Alfred Korzybski’s ‘general semantics’ linked with ‘art’. But when Biederman gave a copy of his book to Korzybski signed, “To my teacher Alfred Korzybski I dedicate this volume [signed] Charles Biederman”, he didn’t exaggerate; his attendance at Korzybski’s 1938 seminar had made a profound influence on his art and his theory of art. Following Korzybski, he had taken as his motto “Nature is not words.” According to Biederman’s biographer and friend Niel Larsen,
Korzybski’s thinking was far more sophisticated than this simple example suggests, and he proved enormously influential to Biederman, more so than any other single individual save Paul Cezanne...Korzybski’s seminar not only opened Biederman’s eyes to semantics and the scientific method, but it focused his thinking regarding the evolution of western art and started him on the path to writing his own ambitious book,...a project that he anticipated would take him a year or two to complete. It took ten. [Neil Larsen, Dec. 2000. “Charles Biederman: A Brief History.”]
John W. Barnes and Joan Waddell Barnes, husband and wife students of Korzybski, wrote an extensive 18-page review of Biederman’s book, which the Institute printed and distributed as its April 1949 membership mailing. In their analysis, Biederman had presented the function of ‘art’ as a series of statements about and means of orientation toward ‘reality’ and had pointed to the ultimate possibility of a merger of ‘art’ and ‘science’ with other aspects of human culture:
Biederman’s work suggest...the first basic extension which Korzybski’s theories have yet received...‘art’ and ‘science’ must eventually function (and can to a degree, now function) as related methods for our orientation to reality, hence for sanity. (The issues are of course extremely complex. Thus, in one way, when ‘art’ becomes a ‘science’ it will function as another related system within the non-aristotelian-system-as-a-whole. Perhaps this is the significant consideration.)

No comments: