Janna Levin on Constrained Creativity and James Turrell

February 25, 2020

During a discussion with Sam Harris and Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) in Philadelphia, cosmologist Janna Levin answered a question an attendee had about the dichotomy between science and art. 

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The question was:

How do you three see this dichotomy [between science and art]. Is it a false one? Is it just semantics? The history of it. And where do you...think our western society is going in terms of bridging that dichotomy.

Janna Levin answered as follows:

I don't think it is a totally false distinction. I am not confused for instance when I am doing theoretical physics if I'm doing science or art...if I'm writing prose I'm not thinking I'm doing science. In that sense I think they are very distinct. But I think there is this very beautiful quality to both which...Pedro Farrera describes as constrained creativity. The idea that we impose these intense structural constraints---and within that scaffolding we find a creative explosion or revolution. And I see that both in art and in science. And an example that I like James Turrell---the artist who works only with light. He has no focal point, no image. His constraints get increasingly more severe as his career goes on. And the more intense the constraints get, the more kind of creative and free his art becomes.

And it was then that I discovered the fantastic work of James Turrell. To check out some of his artwork, go to his website. But here is a short video introducing you to James Turrell.


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