Einstein on Science and Art

prod-einsteinpablo-l[1] Einstein and Picasso 

In 1945 the late Paul M. Laporte, who at the time was teaching art history at Olivert College in Michigan (and later was teaching the history of art at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles) wrote a draft essay which he called: “Cubism and the Theory of Relativity”. In the paper Laporte, being an art historian but not a scientist, tried to link Cubism to popular accounts of the theory of relativity.

Laporte felt he should not publish the essay without getting Einstein’s opinion, and he sent Einstein his essay.

time photo Time Photo

Einstein replied to Laporte on May 4, 1946 a long explanation (in German) on the difference between art and science, and opened his letter by stating in blunt terms: “I find your comparison rather unsatisfactory”. Einstein wrote Laporte that a work of art is “evaluated” differently than a work of science: “In science, the principle of order which creates units is achieved through logical connections while, in art, the principle of order is anchored in the unconscious. The artistic principle of order is always based on traditional modes of connection…”

Einstein often described with lots of creative power the way he invented his scientific theories, and he used artistic language to describe his inventiveness as “free creation of the mind”.

Einstein ended his letter to Laporte by saying that, the essence of the Theory of Relativity has been incorrectly understood in his paper, and he hinted that Cubism has nothing in common with the theory of Relativity:


“Cubism and Relativity”, Art Journal 25, 1966, 246-248; Leonardo 21, 1988, 313-315.

Laporte’s reaction was: “The thought that Einstein has given to the problem of my paper shows his deep and authentic understanding of art and especially of music. Given the uncontestable fact that I had ‘incorrectly understood’ the essence of the Theory of Relativity, should I have insisted on my notion and published the paper?” He asked: “can a scientific work like Einstein’s Theory be understood only by specialists?” And he answered: “I venture to believe that ‘correct’ understanding, not only in science but also in art, is possible but to a relatively small number of specialists (even while ‘correct’ means something different in the two fields)”.

Laporte thought that Cubism did have something in common with the Theory of Relativity. Was it Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? No it was not. This “theory of relativity” was based on popular accounts of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The statement, “It’s All Relative Einstein” was created by popular writers. If “It’s All Relative Einstein”, then Einstein can just take door number one, and Laporte can take door number two… and we get Laporte’s explanation that, correct understanding of relativity means something different in art and science.

Laporte linked Cubism to a popular “theory of relativity” which had nothing in common with Einstein’s beloved science, The Theory of Relativity. Hence, Einstein was right in saying that, “this new artistic ‘language'” (Picasso’s) has nothing in common with The scientific Theory of Relativity.

Laporte wrote that he prepared his essay for publication in the face of Einstein’s objections. The paper was subsequently published in two parts, one under the title “The Space-Time Concept in the Work of Picasso”, and one under the title “Cubism and Science”.