Lives of the Artists XVIII

Jirayr Zorthian (1911-2004), Armenian artist and emigre extraordinaire, was a friend of the physicist Richard Feynman. During one of their discussions on art, they realised that they were arguing from different premises – the one didn’t know any science while the other didn’t know any art. So they agreed to teach the other their subject on alternative weekends.

But the arguments continued. Zorthian claimed that science took away from beauty by looking at a flower and taking it apart. Feynman countered: the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes … [1]

Zorthian regretted using a flower as an example. He said he wished his example had been a bare-breasted woman. “Are you going to look at these breasts and and start analyzing how beautifully they’re formed scientifically? … Or are you going to want to just spontaneously go over there and bury your face between them?” [2]

[1] Richard Feynman and Jirayr Zorthian on science, art and beauty.

[2] Feynman wants his orange juice, Sep 13, 2012.

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