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Extravagaria—Art Assisting Science

A Workshop At OOPSLA 2002


Artists and scientists share the most important goal: the search for truth. Their methods and approaches differ, and their results are in different languages, but there is no a priori reason to grant primacy to either. In educational research, and possibly in other domains, there is thriving work on using the techniques of art - especially creative writing - to explore research questions and explain results. In software, we not only seek truth and reality, but we create it. Certainly there is a role for art here. This workshop explores that question.

The Name

We selected the name Extravagaria for the workshop for two related reasons: One is that it is the title of one of Pablo Neruda's best collections of poetry; and the other is that the word probably means outrageous or flamboyant wandering or roaming. Though we believe that the practices of art and science really are the same things at a deep human level, most scientists, for example, would consider art to be concerned only with feelings and expression. And in our contemporary educational systems, we have almost completely purged art except as an extravagance for those who can afford it while the real work of teaching and learning goes on in the mathematics classrooms and down the line through science and engineering.

Themes and Goals

Main Theme: Seven features of arts-based educational inquiry will inform, initially, our exploration of how to use and adapt the methods of artists and artistic thinking to designing and building object-based systems and languages. Make no mistake, in proposing this workshop we have no clear concept how it will unfold.

We will, somehow, explore these questions to find out how art can help us approach understanding our technology and creating our computational artifacts.

Specific Workshop Goals: Examine the creation of art and the creation of object-based systems, and determine where art can inform science on the creation of computational artifacts.

This workshop is intended to bring together researchers, practitioners, and artists to do the following:


At the heart of the question is aesthetics. I make a distinction that others don’t regarding aesthetics, so let me point it out so that readers of other of my work will not be confused since in this workshop I will drop my distinction. Art, let’s say, has some quality that we recognize as making it art. That quality can be broken into two parts: One that is enduring and depends little or not at all on one’s culture or preferences - I call that beauty; the other depends on training, culture, and/or conscious decisions - I call that aesthetics. For example, someone might not like the work of Jackson Pollack because one does not care for abstract expressionism, but almost anyone seeing his best paintings in person will recognize them as art - but perhaps as art they don’t like. Abstract expressionism is the aesthetic (or the personal choice of the viewer) while beauty is what makes what makes everyone think it is art. For most of the literature, aesthetics is the term people use for either the combination, which I’ve called art, or of what I've called beauty, or else they don’t honor as closely the distinction I’ve made.

Given that, here is what Sir Herbert Read has written about aesthetics in education:

Education is the fostering of growth, but apart from physical maturation, growth is only made apparent in expression - audible or visual signs, and symbols. Education may therefore be defined as the cultivation of modes of expression - it is teaching children and adults how to make sounds, images, movements, tools, and utensils. A man who can make such things well is a well-educated man. If he can make good sounds, he is a good speaker, a good musician, a good poet; if can make good images, he is a good painter or sculptor; if good movements, a good dancer or laborer; if good tools or utensils, a good craftsman. All faculties, of thought, logic, memory, sensibility, and intellect, are involved in such processes. And they are all processes which involve art, for art is nothing but the good making of sounds, images, etc. The aim of education is therefore the creation of artists - of people efficient in the various modes of expression.

Art is making form - in Norway, visual arts education is called "Forming." Scientists, by creating theories and explanations of the world, are making forms which express human understanding. These forms can be well done or poorly done - both as theories per se and as expression. That is, the theories can be elegant, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, and in fact, most theories are judged at least partially this way. And their expression as mathematics or prose can be aesthetically pleasing as well. But the real point is that a theory is a human construction, and it is part of our religion of science that human constructions built a certain way (the scientific method perhaps) and validated by a particular academy makes it science and hence of a particular stature of truth in our society. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Elliot Eisner wrote:

The scientist, like the artist, must transform the content of his or her imagination into some public, stable form, something that can be shared with others. The shape of this form - its coherence - is a critical feature concerning its acceptability. The adequacy of theory is not simply determined by experimental results. Experimental results can often be explained by competing theories. The attractiveness of a theory is a central factor in our judgment of it.

Admission to the Workshop

Admission is by invitation only. We’re interested in exploring how aesthetic or artistic practices can assist science. We are also interested in a lively debate. To be invited, please submit a short (up to one page) essay on either a way that art participate in and assist science, or an argument why it’s stupid to think art has anything to do with real. scientific thinking. Add a short biography if we don’t know who you are. Email it by September 15, 2002, to either Joe Bergin (berginf at pace.edu) or me (rpg at dreamsongs.com), and we’ll let you know by October 1, 2002, if you are invited.

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