Scientists’ views on what makes an experiment successful have developed dramatically throughout history. Different criteria for proper experimentation were privileged at different times, entirely new criteria for securing experimental results emerged, and the meaning of commitment to experimentation altered. In About Method, Schickore captures this complex trajectory of change from 1660 to the twentieth century through the history of snake venom research. As experiments with poisonous snakes and venom were both challenging and controversial, the experimenters produced very detailed accounts of their investigations, which go back three hundred years—making venom research uniquely suited for such a long-term study. By analyzing key episodes in the transformation of venom research, Schickore is able to draw out the factors that have shaped methods discourse in science.
About Method shows that methodological advancement throughout history has not been simply a steady progression toward better, more sophisticated and improved methodologies of experimentation. Rather, it was a progression in awareness of the obstacles and limitations that scientists face in developing strategies to probe the myriad unknown complexities of nature. The first long-term history of this development and of snake venom research, About Method offers a major contribution to integrated history and philosophy of science.
In the years immediately following World War II, Black Mountain College, an unaccredited school in rural Appalachia, became a vital hub of cultural innovation. Practically every major artistic figure of the mid-twentieth century spent some time there: Merce Cunningham, Ray Johnson, Franz Kline, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne, Aaron Siskind, Cy Twombly—the list goes on and on. Yet scholars have tended to view these artists’ time at the College as little more than prologue, a step on their way to greatness. With The Experimenters, Eva Díaz reveals the importance of Black Mountain College—and especially of three key teachers, Josef Albers, John Cage, and R. Buckminster Fuller—to be much greater than that.
Díaz’s focus is on experimentation. Albers, Cage, and Fuller, she shows, taught new models of art making that favored testing procedures rather than personal expression. These methodologies represented incipient directions for postwar art practice, elements of which would be sampled, and often wholly adopted, by Black Mountain students and subsequent practitioners. The resulting works, which interrelate art and life in a way that imbues these projects with crucial relevance, not only reconfigured the relationships among chance, order, and design—they helped redefine what artistic practice was, and could be, for future generations.
Offering a bold, compelling new angle on some of the most widely studied creative figures of modern times, The Experimenters does nothing less than rewrite the story of art in the mid-twentieth century.