I find the cultural divide between the arts/humanities and the sciences puzzling.
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
This had to be one of the hardest weekends to program -- I wish I could have had a clone of myself. On the one hand, one of my biggest clients -- The Planetary Society (and Bill Nye the Science Guy) was having a weekend-long festival surrounding the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover) on Mars, for which I had designed countless pieces of signage, programs, logos, etc. Four blocks down the street from that festival, the Pasadena Musical Theatre Program (of which I am a board member and all-around support staff) was staging their final show of the summer in a little theatre above the Pasadena Playhouse. How could I choose where I should spend my time?
(I chose the theatre, 'cuz my son was one of the leads. Family ends up trumping all else...)
The choice between SCIENCE and ART has bedeviled students and scientists and creatives and educators for years. Here was my chance to choose one or the other. But it begged the question: why do I have to choose? (Dammit!) Why does becoming an artist prevent me from pursuing scientific pursuits? Or, conversely, why would becoming a scientist keep me from exploring theater, or music, or photography?
And we all know of anecdotes of famous “renaissance men (and women)” from history: Da Vinci, Galileo, etc. But it still continues today: listen to Herbie Hancock, whose jazz improvisations inspired how I developed as a pianist:
"I've always been interested in science. I used to take watches apart and clocks apart, and there's little screws, and a little this and that, and I found out if I dropped one of them, that thing ain't gonna work.
He believes that the greatest thing young artists can do is study math and science, because the skills required -- and the dedication and hours -- are useful/transferable to studying art and music. The fact that both creativity and scientific thought require a shared set of skills is intuitively true, as this blogger has illustrated in his Venn diagram:
- Who has time? As an incoming freshman at Occidental College (whose orchestra is named the Occidental/Caltech orchestra, 'cuz those scientists are pretty incredible musicians too), I couldn't find room in my schedule to have both music and science (I declared as an engineering major, before transfering to education/math, before transfering to economics, before transfering to...well, you get the idea). Educational models in secondary and graduate education don't really allow for polymaths.
- Who has money? President Obama recently committed to funding more STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) teachers for schools across the country, if school districts commensurately committed to STEM education. And you know what the result of that is? Further drops in funding for the arts, as the funds go over to STEM. A teacher friend who has spearheaded a 30-year-old choral/musical theater program in Pasadena for at-risk youth is herself at risk of losing her job, because Pasadena wants to turn her school into a STEM school (probably to get additional funds from the federal government). How stupid is that? Don't people recognize that art and science are interrelated?
Personally, I have never found a separation between art and science. My musicianship was transformed the year that my wife and I started to subscribe to Scientific American. It wasn't that there were "tips and tricks" for improving my musical ability inside the pages of the magazine; rather, my brain exploded while reading up on the mind-bending advances in science that are happening every day, and my brain dealt with these new ideas by channeling it into new, creative, crazy, wonderful music.
- Don't get caught in "art and science don't mix" thinking. You're dead wrong.
- Expand your mind! Read, educate, create. Repeat.
- Advocate to your local/state/federal politicians to not forsake either STEM or the arts.
It was amazing to see, once again, something that we built -- through both the creativity and scientific amazingness of a group of dedicated/talented/creative people -- land on another planet. That I was not in the building for Planetfest with my client will soon be forgotten; what will not be forgotten is the creativity that spurs scientists on, or the passion for math and science that inspires countless artists.
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a rock-and-roll tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science and technology and the arts and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
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