Monday, 29 July 2013

Complexity: A Link Between Science and Art?

Serious science starts when you begin to measure. According to this philosophy we constantly apply our complexity technology  in attempts to measure entities/phenomena/situations that so far haven't been quantified in rigorous scientific terms. Of course we can always apply our subjective perceptions of the reality that surrounds us so as to classify and rank, for example, beauty, fear, risk, sophistication, stress, elegance, pleasure, anger, workload, etc., etc. Based on our perceptions we make decisions, we select strategies, we make investments. When it comes to actually measuring certain perceptions complexity may be a very useful proxy.

Let's consider, for example, art. Let's suppose that we wish to measure the amount of pleasure resulting from the contemplation of a work of art, say a painting. We can postulate the following conjecture: the pleasure one receives when contemplating a work of art is proportional to its complexity. This is of course a simple assumption but it will suffice to illustrate the main concept of this short note. Modern art produces often paintings which consist of a few lines or splashes on a canvas. You just walk past. When, instead, you stand in front of a painting by, say, Rembrandt van Rijn, you experience awe and admiration. Now why would that be case? Evidently, painting something of the calibre of The Night Watch is not matter of taking a spray gun and producing something with the aid of previous ingested chemical substances. Modern "art" versus a masterpiece. Minutes of delirium versus years of hard work. Splashes versus intricate details. Clear, but how do you actually compare them?

We have measured the complexity of ten paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. The results are reported below without further comments.

and Rembrandt