The Art History Newsletter

Einstein and Art

by | 29 January 2009 | Books, Modern

In The American Scientist, a physicist reviews Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture, edited by Peter L. Galison and Gerald Holton and Silvan S. Schweber:

Although Einstein denied a connection between music and his modes of thinking about science, he did claim that his thought patterns were highly visual, something he had in common with a number of other famous and successful scientists. However, this quality makes it even more striking how little interest he seems to have had in the visual arts. Although this volume devotes three essays to Einstein’s influence on the visual arts, each of the essayists (Lynda Dalrymple Henderson, Caroline A. Jones and Matthew Ritchie) is ready to admit that there does not appear to be any causal connection between Einstein and artistic modernism. This finding provides a salutary antidote to the claims that cubism and other artistic movements of the 20th century owed their existence, in some part, to Einstein’s work on relativity and early quantum physics.

The truth is that, insofar as artists may have been influenced by advances in non-Euclidean geometry and talk of time as a fourth dimension of space, these vague ideas were in the air before Einstein made any contributions to their realization in science. And where science influences art, the influence is often of so decidedly nontechnical and nonspecific a nature as to make any proper citation impossible. One may say, for instance, that 20th-century artists have been, at times, focused on the notion of how to treat or portray time in a traditionally static medium. But it is impossible to decide whether they have been influenced by physicists’ evolving understanding of time, much less estimate the influence of one physicist in particular.

(via 3 Quarks Daily)