What has happened to the magic of learning? Playful illusions, spellbinding games, and lifelike automata were once integral to education. Artful Science reveals the exhilarating but paradoxical intertwining of enchantment with enlightenment in the early modern period. A cross-disciplinary guide to intellectual high and low life of the eighteenth century, Artful Science makes the case for the pedagogical opportunities inherent in an oral-visual culture. Barbara Stafford draws on an extraordinary range of historical sources and popular imagery, exploring from a new perspective the perceptual cognition that she so deftly analyzed in Body Criticism. Her important reinterpretation also casts many well-studied paintings as instances of an instructive art of demonstration.Artful Science opens by describing the evolution of mathematical recreations and their relationship to the middle class's increasing leisure time. Subsequent chapters focus on the problem of distinguishing legitimate science from virtuoso fraud; the public performance of experiments; and early attempts to create informative and attractive natural history exhibits. Throughout, Stafford emphasizes the concern for telling truth from fiction in a world of alluring techlogy. The enlighteners' relentless association of sensory evidence with deception led to the submergence of a tricking oral-visual culture by serious mass literacy drives, Stafford observes. Yet sophisticated teaching techniques and ingenious learning machines made abstractions concrete and appealing to ever-widening eighteenth-century audiences. With the modern computer graphics revolution always in view, Artful Science suggests fresh means for putting intelligence, enjoyment, and communicative power back into thinking with images.
Barbara Stafford is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Good Looking, Artful Science, Body Criticism, and Voyage into Substance (all published by MIT Press).