The Foxes and the Hedgehogs, Yet Again.

Abstract

The Greek poet Archilochus (c 680–645 BC) wrote, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This quote echoed widely after being used by the British philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997) in his essay on Leo Tolstoy (1, 2 ). In his other works Berlin addressed issues such as liberty and political judgement. He was strongly against monism, i.e., the view that there exist absolute, unassailable truths (3 ). He was also interested in the differences between natural sciences and the humanities. He maintained that they were different, the former being essentially focused on the study of the outside world and the latter on the internal world of the humans. His essay The Hedgehog and the Fox contrasted writers and thinkers such as Plato, who saw the world through one unifying idea (the hedgehogs) and those, like Montagne, who accepted the world as multiplicity of ideas and systems (the foxes) (1 ). Here I would like to apply Archilochus’s quote to a somewhat more practical issue, to our views of the specialists and the generalists in science and the arts. Thus, those who are interested in broad perspectives would be foxes, and those who revel in knowing more and more about a narrow field would be hedgehogs. In the visual arts an example of a generalist would be Pablo Picasso (4 ), an artist who used different modes of expression and addressed a wide range of subjects. His oeuvre includes painting, sculpture, and collage. He also explicitly refers to other artists and other cultures from widely varied periods. On the other hand, a striking example of the opposite, i.e., a hedgehog, is the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964)—the Hermit of Bologna, as he is sometimes called (5, 6 ). Morandi was a painter and a printmaker (5 ). He first worked as a drawing instructor for elementary schools, and between 1930 and 1956 was professor of etching at Acaddemia di Belle Arti in Bologna, his alma mater. Morandi was a Futurist for a short period, and then, together with Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, was associated with the metaphysical painting movement (pittura metafisica). He was influenced by Cezanne, Monet, and Seurat. He lived in Bologna all his life. His oeuvre consists of still lifes and landscapes. During his career he increasingly focused on a very narrow range of still life subjects (Fig. 1). He painted arrangements of bottles and other vessels, patiently varying their composition, tones, and hues. He achieved extraordinary subtlety in the use of tones and narrow palettes. Interestingly, both his still lifes and landscapes tend to reduce the observed forms to essential shapes and colors, projecting a unique sense of simplicity. Morandi gained a wide recognition after exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in 1948 (6 ). AlCollege of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK. * Address correspondence to the author at: Gartnavel General Hospital, 1053 Great Western Rd., Glasgow G12 0YN, Scotland, UK. Fax +44-141-211-3452; e-mail marek.dominiczak@gla.ac.uk. Received January 16, 2016; accepted January 27, 2016. © 2016 American Association for Clinical Chemistry Fig. 1. Giorgio Morandi. Still Life. 1916. Oil on canvas, 32 1/2 × 22 5/8 inches. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. (286.1949). ©2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Digital Image ©The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY. Reproduced with permission. Science in the Arts

DOI: 10.1373/clinchem.2015.253070

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Cite this paper

@article{Dominiczak2016TheFA, title={The Foxes and the Hedgehogs, Yet Again.}, author={Marek Henryk Dominiczak}, journal={Clinical chemistry}, year={2016}, volume={62 4}, pages={660-1} }