In the first quarter of the 20th century, scientists discovered it is both. There are experiments that prove it is a particle; there are experiments that prove it is a wave. This does not mean we have learned all there is to know about it; science still does not understand exactly how or why it is both and all that entails. Our understanding will likely evolve further this century. There are a few scientists who still say that it is a wave, or a particle, only. There are still a few who are pursuing the classical physics grail looking for the Grand Unified Theory; there is even one scientist who claims to have found it. However, the overwhelming majority of scientists in 2010 agree that light has a dual nature; it is both a particle and wave. They don’t sit around and try to convince each other that it is only one or the other. They certainly don’t argue about which side of its nature is most IMPORTANT, or “right”! This understanding and acceptance of the dual nature of light has led to inventions that have given us the very foundation of modern technology and all the health, economic and social benefits that have been related; superconductivity, transistors, the electronic digital computer, the laser, and the internet; the very monitor you are reading this on right now. The majority of modern science itself, NONE of it would exist without the acceptance of the dual nature of light.
Compare this to our “art world” in 2010. The making of visual art itself is of a dual nature. There are two distinct, separate but inseparable ‘elements’ used in the making of visual art. For centuries, artists have explored both sides. It can be argued that the greatest culmination and synthesis of knowledge for one side, one element, reached fruition in the late 19th century; it can be argued that some of the greatest explorations of the other element occurred in the 20th century. We have the history and the evidence, the artifacts, of all that has come before us. There is great art that celebrates one element of the process; there is great art that celebrates the other element of the process, just like the experiments that show the dual nature of light. Perhaps the GREATEST art reflects BOTH elements of the process in the greatest measure.
Regardless, in 2010, there is no consensus among visual artists that accepts the importance of both elements, and how they work together; there is no updated definition to describe visual art that recognizes the dual nature of the process of making it. What we DO have are proponents on one side who champion part of the process and say ‘art is this and only this”, and proponents of the other element saying ‘art is this and only this, certainly not that”, and a whole lot of confused people in the middle.
In 2010, visual art is a century behind science.