A&O QUOTE – Constable and Zola and the Functions of Art



ART and SCIENCE: Allies in the 19th Century


“Painting is a science, and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, then, may not landscape be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but experiments?”

John Constable, from a lecture at the Royal Institution, June 16, 1836)


Constable’s view resonates with that of  Emile Zola, the great French novelist of the 19th century, who, in Le Roman expérimental” (1880),  thought of the novel as an experiment in the sense of Claude Bernard’s seminal work Introduction to Experimental Medicine (1865):

    “The novelist is equally an observer and an experimentalist. The observer in him gives the facts as he has observed them . . . . then the experimentalist appears and introduces an experiment, that is to say, sets his characters going in a certain story so as to show that the succession of facts will be such as the requirements of the determinism of the phenomena under examination call for” (Zola, The Experimental Novel p8).[i] 

      He wrote further on the potential of the novel to lead not only to “the knowledge of physical life, [but] it should also lead to the knowledge of the passionate and intellectual life. It is but a question of degree in the same path which runs from chemistry to physiology, then from physiology to anthropology and to sociology. The experimental novel is the goal“ (Emile Zola 1893)

more at Art & Science – 19th Century resonances

[i]. Extract from Émile Zola, “The Experimental Novel.” Translated from the French by Belle M. Sherman. New York: Haskell House, 1964. from Peter Vinten-Johansen’s MSU course, History 337_ European Intellectual History: Natural Philosophy through Romanticism (March 27, 2002); http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst337/Zola-ExpNovel.htm