“Science and the Arts” Review

4 star rating
Science and the Arts book cover

“Science and the Arts” is one of a large series of magazine-like books, or book-like magazines, that Scientific American offers to its subscribers as a reward for renewing their subscription. Each contains a collection of articles from the magazine that relate to some general topic, in this case, as the subtitle of the work indicates, “the interrelationship of science and art.”

Published sometime in the mid- to late 1990s, this volume contains articles that span nearly four decades, from 1955 to 1994, and cover topics ranging from the creative process to visual art, sculpture, music, and perception. There’s even a long poem by John Updike.

Because of the age of the articles, it’s fair to assume that the science of each topic covered has advanced, probably significantly. Even so, each reports on important advances in the state of knowledge at the time they were originally published. One article explains the physics of violins, and how small differences in construction can have significant effects on the quality of the sound a given instrument produces. Another examines how players of the valveless baroque trumpet were able to clearly play the full range of notes written for their instruments, even though the construction of the horn worked against doing so. George Rickey explains how he was able to make exquisitely balanced, multi-piece metal sculptures that move effortlessly in even the slightest breeze.

As a long-time subscriber to Scientific American, I was interested to note how the articles have changed over the years. The pieces in this collection are typically far longer than what you’ll find today and the language is denser. Not surprisingly, yesterday’s artwork and illustrations are far less sophisticated than today’s.

While the pieces are all dated, some significantly so, I still found most of them fascinating and enlightening. For someone who is interested in how science and art interact—and they most certainly do—this book is worth picking up if you can find a copy. Recommended.

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