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The Pathway between Art and Science
One Painter's Metaphorical Journey
By Guy Levrier

Those of an inquiring mind are always scrupulously careful not to talk about themselves in the first person; they realise only too well how such a lack of humility could make them lose their reason, as Euripides1 warned. But however much they may wish to be the eternal recluse, concentrating on their work in splendid solitude, in the final analysis they need to communicate their findings. The researcher will have his own special language in which to express himself, and whether its formulation be mathematical, logical, chemical or otherwise, it is this language which will enable him to be understood by his peers within the limits of his field of investigation.

As a painter, I communicate by means of my painting, but as abstract art is not something which is self-explanatory, I have no other choice but to comment on it myself, using words, and furthermore, in the first person singular, for which I am suitably contrite, for this is a very personal adventure, a narrow way between art, science and spirituality, which I shall walk with care, conscious of the need to preserve my reason, under the watchful eye of Euripides, and of the fact that I am not about to produce some kind of scientific proof.

In this way, I hope to be able to measure, on the one hand, the full impact of the collective unconscious in my feelings of individual responsibility for the present state of humanity2, and on the other, its force as a conceptual source3, as I follow the very subtle course which I intend to steer between analogy and metaphor.

But first, let us be clear about what we mean by certain terms:

An analogy is defined as a relation of likeness between two things or of one thing to or with another, consisting in the resemblance, not of the things themselves, but of two or more attributes, circumstances, or effects (Webster)

"Analogies are based less on notional resemblances (similitudines), than on an internal stimulation, on a will to assimilate (intentio ad assimilationem)."4 I observe here with interest that the second latin expression expresses the idea of the intention to assimilate.

A metaphor is "the process whereby the inherent meaning of a word is transported to another meaning which only fits it by virtue of an implicit comparison." (Larousse)

It is fairly common to find analogy and metaphor taken to mean the same thing in scientific literature 5, and this is why I should like to situate my approach somewhere between the two. To be more precise, for instance, to give an example to a young student, I can throw a pebble into the water to create rings which will give him a rough idea of a light wave in its shape and movement. This is an analog: we remain in the world of physics. Once the student has understood, I can say that "the light" of his mind has illuminated an obscure notion to understand it. This is a metaphor: a transposition from the physical domain into the intellectual domain.

From the moment at which my painting, which was originally impressionist, became abstract, with all the mystery which that implies, I attempted to find words which would adequately describe what I was feeling, in this search for creation. Curiously enough, it was in the terminology of quantum physics that I found them, in their metaphorical form, and I was more surprised than anyone 6

The first thing I did was to ask myself about my motivation: why should I, as a painter, have such a need for science, and for quantum physics in particular 7? When I assume my share of individual responsibility in a dehumanised, decadent society, which has lost control of itself, and is characterised among other things by the death of its Art, I totally share the sentiments expressed by Ernst Gombrich, the well known Art historian, when he writes:

   "The advances made by modern science are so astounding that it makes me feel a little uneasy to hear my university colleagues discussing genetic codes, when art historians are still talking about the fact that Duchamp sent a urinal to an exhibition. When you think about the difference in intellectual level, itís just not possible."8   

These then, are the slightly shameful feelings of a specialist in the field who realises the gulf which exists between the progress of science and the regression of art.

Consequently, my position is to reverse the tendency, to link my artistic creation to the dynamics of progress instead of the decadence of regression, by situating myself with those who adopt a serious approach†: scientists, who work in a painstaking way for the common good, with the sense of a kind of order in nature, which I share. That then, is my motivation.9

As for my conceptual source, the story of my metaphorical journey between art and science is punctuated by three bombshell events:

First bombshell:

The statement by Malevitch concerning his art, i.e. painting, (white square on white background, 1918), paralleled to Heisenbergís statement about science (the uncertainty principle, 1925).

As an initial approximation, and speaking as a man in the street, I expect the artist to give me art, the criterion for which, as far as I am concerned, is beauty, and the scientist, science, the criterion for which is knowledge based, demonstrable and predictable certainty.

Now for me, Jungís concept of the collective unconscious is validated by the fact that the idea of non-art, formulated by Malevitch10 in 1918, was followed 7 years later by the concept of uncertainty, or the limits of knowledge, proposed by Heisenberg in 1925. This looks like a rather unsettling case of synchronicity. It seems to me in this particular case that the idea of uncertainty has a special kind of force when applied to the notion of metaphor. Anyway, the artist is always in advance of the scientist, as he has the total freedom which the other cannot have. However, this total freedom has a price, which is considerable risk-taking, likely to end in total failure, in nothing, in a sterile void, whereas the scientist is protected by the necessity of experimental proof.

I canít help thinking that if he had wanted to be sincere when talking about his work and to listen to what his readers were saying to him, Malevitch would certainly not have continued down the road of nihilism. After all, it is precisely this kind of self-check, this kind of self-criticism, which is at the heart of the process of inspiration and creative work of the artist. Inspiration requires a lot of hard work. Let us hope that at least this will serve as a lesson for the future: this experimental act by Malevitch has led us into the most profound delirium from which we have still not yet recovered in 1998.

Metaphorically speaking, it is as if there were a sort of higher sphere11, where new concepts emerge by a dual process (bottom-up from the push of human progress, and top-down by the pull of Godís intervention, or the sum of the two?); and where seekers of truth can find inspiration: enabling them, depending on their mental structure, special gifts and personal willpower, to produce a work of art or science, but with a similar inspiration born from a same general concept (in our case non-art and limited science).

Second bombshell:

The confrontation between Einstein and Bohr over the foundations of quantum physics, based on the Copenhagen interpretation, according to which "Only that which is observed is real".

According to Penrose "†Öthe thing which most troubled Einstein was an apparent lack of objectivity in the way that quantum theory seemed to have to be described. In my exposition of quantum theory I have taken pains to stress that the description of the world, as provided by the theory, is really quite an objective one, though often very strange and counter-intuitive. On the other hand, Bohr seems to have regarded the quantum state of a system (between measurements) as having no actual physical reality, acting merely as a summary of oneís knowledge concerning that system. But might not different observers have different knowledge of a system, so the wavefunction would seem to be something essentially subjective Ė or all in the mind of the physicist?12

It will be objected that what is true at microscopic level is no longer so at macroscopic level: in the field of art it is the macroscopic level we are concerned with, i.e. the level where traditional physics prevails. Not at all, I would answer, this is precisely what I felt when I went from the representation of objects by figurative art to the non-representation of anything by abstract art. By making this transition I moved forward by a degree in the expression of my subjectivity.

The point is that when I was an impressionist, I tried to paint a tree, for example, in the most beautiful way possible, in the hope that the observer would find it beautiful, very beautiful even, and that was that. I hoped to add to the intrinsic beauty of the tree the uplifting feeling which I experienced when I contemplated it and enable the observer to share the sum of the two.

If I stopped painting "impressionist", it was partly because the process of reproducing objects had become something of a routine for me, i.e. anti-creative, and partly because the public had become tired of looking at paintings of objects: itís not enough, there is a demand for a new sensation, something different, something stronger and more profound. But it can also be explained by the fact that once you no longer have the support provided by an object, and you are totally alone in the solitude of your studio, you feel this call, which comes as much from yourself as from others, so why not make the effort and reply to it?

"What were you trying to represent?" I am asked by those who have not yet dared to embark upon the adventure I hold out to them. If I simply wish to represent an object, of course these questions don't arise: the object is real and comforting, but if this object is taken away, what remains? Motherwell answers this question by saying "The prime purpose of painting is to be the vehicle of human relations." This is precisely what happens when I answer the question. Knowing in advance what is going to happen, and depending on my mood and the person I have in front of me, I say either "Your question is meaningless, because I wasn't trying to represent anything at all," which invariably destabilises them a little, or I make some off the cuff remark such as, "Itís a particle" just for a joke.
      This is followed by a silence while they take all this in, and then they say something like "Oh yes, I hadnít looked at it like that, I was thinking more of a wave, for example." Thatís fine: the viewer could quite easily have come to the same conclusion himself without asking for my advice, but this exchange between us has set him off on an adventure into the realm of abstraction, into a reality which belongs to him alone. So my "real" when I look at this painting is no truer than the "real" experienced by my viewer, simply by virtue of the fact that I am itís author, I have no particular authority in the matter, our "reals" are simply complementary. ComplementarityÖ another concept central to quantum physics.13

This is also the reason why, in the introduction to my Internet sites, I invite the viewers not to try to guess the dimensions of my paintings, because, from those of a post stamp to those of a whole universe, it will be their choice again.

So we are not dealing here with a microscopic or macroscopic reality, but with the real expressed as metaphor, by a sort of "shared archetype" of the collective subconscious. And the similarity between art and science, in terms of the common image, is disturbing.

Third bombshell:

The resemblance between my perception of my personal process of inspiration and the new concept of reality, as outlined by Bellís theorem.

Until Einstein, it appeared that matter had a reality which existed independently of our observation of it, and which it was up to us to discover by our research. Niels Bohr, in his Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, maintains that on the contrary, only that which is observed, exists. Bell, in 1964, starting from the thought experiment of Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen, "shows that orthodox quantum theory predicts a correlation between remote objects which cannot be explained by means of any kind of local reality"14 and thus agrees with Bohr. This theoretical demonstration was finally confirmed experimentally by Alain Aspect in 1982.

It follows that a higher correlation exists in quantum mechanics, compared to any theory of local reality: any attempt to understand the real must therefore take account of the universe as a Whole. It is this correlation which I seem to have become aware of, like anyone trying to perform an act of creation: it is a correlation which places me in contact, outside my immediate and local reality, with the component elements of our "holistic" universe Ė i.e. which acts on each of its basic elements, each of which reacts on the whole of the universe Ė with its cosmic and psychic forces.

It is as if the creative act necessarily implied that all creators had to work out their own personal mode of inspiration, while remaining receptive to the universe, by an exterior and an interior contemplation15, by a self-checking way of working, by a kind of dialogue with the public and all this continually evolving, because nothing is fixed in this Whole.

The Necessary and the Sufficient

This great methodological law which applies to mathematics, and uses metaphor, is my law of creation in my auto-controlled work: say everything there is to say and only what there is to say, in order to achieve the maximum concentration of the mind, both of the author and of the viewer, in the exchange, without any useless verbiage. (Incidentally, it is possible without forcing things, to extend the metaphor to make it express a moral lesson. It seems to me in fact, that instead of trying to impose some kind of mythical equality on each other, we would be much better off and happier if we each tried to obtain just the necessary and to be satisfied with the sufficient.)

Metaphors are always arguable, and creative people are always arguing about them in their incessant quarrels over imaginary experiences which go something like "your metaphor is absurd, while mine is pertinent." Unlike in science, we havenít got any way of settling the matter by means of experimentation leading to some form of proof. However, I was incredibly lucky to discover a very convincing presumption of proof, quite disturbing in fact, considering that I paint exclusively on a white background, in an article by Jacques Mandelbrojt, a quantum physicist, mathematician and abstract painter, who writes:

   "Öone of the characteristics of my paintings is that apart from the brushstrokes which are necessary to transmit my mental image, there is only the white of the canvas or the paper. This can be paralleled with one of the properties of mathematical reasoning and of the axiomatic method, in which the minimum necessary assumptionsÖ are made in order to arrive at the most general result and in order above all to highlight the basic mechanism which underlies a mathematical property. It is difficult for me to say whether the fact of representing only the significant details makes reference to mathematics, or whether it reflects a property of mental images such as that described by Jean-Paul Sartre: The character of Pierre expressed as an image is "dappled".16   

This astonishing synchronicity affords additional proof, if it were needed, of the rightness of Jungís intuition concerning the reality of the collective subconscious.

So, in the joy of my creation, I subject myself to this methodological rigour which seems to be so good for our scientific brothers, and I swim along happily against the present tide of artistic death, just in order to survive. My past interest in Zen Art, which is coherent with "the Whole" of Eastern philosophies and the holistic universe of quantum physics, was rewarded by the following laconic comment made recently by a Benedictine monk on my work: "To be able to fully appreciate such a painting, one must be enlightened."†

"Anything goes", non-being and non-art

The fashion in art, for the last decades, has been to allow the artist total freedom:† "do whatever you like!" I make a point of doing exactly the opposite, and whatís more, I really try. All criteria have evaporated in the face of this fashion and the public complains that it has lost its way. Yves Michaud describes the situation as follows:

   "Öthe judgement involved in aesthetic appreciation is identified with a judgement based on criteria and norms recognised by a particular community, and, potentially, by the whole of humanity. The triumph of "anything goes" thus marks the end of aesthetics and even of art itself.

"Even a moderate version places responsibility for the situation on a failure of critical judgement, which is incapable of distinguishing adequate criteria (Olivier Mangin), which lacks the courage to impose them (Domecq), or which has allowed itself to become marginalised by social change engendering fashion trends, snobbism and even a kind of terrorism of aesthetic judgement (Le Bot, Gaillard). In the radical version, art is proclaimed as dead as it is void (Baudrillard)".17

What must be happening inside the head of a man who has devoted his entire life to art and who ends up painting a white square on a white background and declaring that it is time to stop painting, both for himself and other painters? How can such an absurdity be given any credence in art circles in the first place and as a result by the rest of the general public? Sadly, the answer is simple: because of money and pseudo-intellectual snobbism.

I observe that those who populate this "world" have managed to bring about the destruction of our contemporary art, whereas scientists, faced with a situation which is paradoxical and uncomfortable for those accustomed to rational thought ("if you believe in quantum physics, you canít take it seriously") have managed to make advances in science. The latter have the advantage of experimental verification of their theories compared to the former. However, artists should have realised that the reactions of rejection which their work provoked from the general public were the equivalent of the scientistís experimental verification.

Fortunately, this public, which represents the last embodiment of sincerity of judgement, has retained its common sense i.e. reason, and refuses to embrace this movement of decadence in society and rejects its symbol: non-art. Now the situation has taken on a whole new and highly alarming aspect since the French Ministry of Culture commissioned a major sociological study entitled "The rejection of contemporary art".18

So itís simple, basically: we are going to have to re-attach ourselves to our moral, ideological and aesthetic values, to name but a few. The method is the same as that applied by the lost pilot: look for a guiding star. For us, this will mean our spirituality. Then we shall have to pick up again from the last known point on our route: nature. Because nature constantly gives us lessons in eternal beauty. It will need a lot of work, because you have to work hard to achieve inspiration, to have the honour of making Art which exists outside of time.19


Art and Science

Guy Levrier describes his understanding of the place and purpose of his Art in the context of our late twentieth century--he does not accept his responsibility to society, as an artist, in the current "death of art" situation. He agrees that abstract Art is not self-explanatory although its meaning exists in the collective unconscious. To explain his effort, he has found "metaphors" in quantum physics, to his predicament which enable him to link his artistic process to the dynamics of progress found in science rather to the regression found in the art.

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