Mae Jemison, former astronaut, doctor, art collector and nearly a professional dancer, talks about why the culture of seeing art and science as being only suited to one type of person or the other is ridiculous and counter productive. In fact, she makes the point that if you tell an intellectually talented person "well either you can have the intuitive thinking and be an artist, or the logical, focussed thinking of science" they will probably not be interested in either, and choose something else entirely that promises some of both. As educators and contributors to culture, it is necessary, she argues, to convince students that it aint so.
As a professional artist who happens to have a science degree, this was obvious to me, but still it seems that many people don't get the connection. Both the arts and sciences use linear, analytical thinking as well as non linear, intuitive thinking to solve problems. The combination of types of thinking could be sumarised as "creative thinking".
Jemison makes the interesting point that the Arts and Sciences are not just two sides of the same coin, but exist along a continuum of human knowledge. But even if both fields use creative thinking, they are clearly different in purpose and outcome. She describes the real essential difference like this: Whereas the Sciences seek to understand universal facts about the external world, independent of personal experiences, the Arts seek to understand universals facts about the external world through relating personal experiences. How's that for a rebuttal of relativism?
I believe the connection is even deeper than that: the artist, in order to gain mastery over their craft, needs to be analytical to understand how the craft works, to develop the principles and understanding that universally create particular effects in their viewer. The artist progressees through experiments - and the results of the experiments are read from the response of their own eye and that of their viewers. The idea was developed further in an essay i read recently about neuroscientists investigating aesthetics, who were convinced that great artists have shown great insight about the way the brain processes visual information.
Further musings on the elements shared by art and science:
Plasticity: I mean by that the sense that the final conclusion remains plastic. Just as the scientist should not go into research with their mind already made up about a topic, and should instead approach it with the sense that everything is a matter of degrees of confidence, and something unexpected could well turn up, the artist is well advised to be open to the discovery of something different over the course of a work, as much as over the course of a series, or a career. It is the antidote to boring passivity - who knows what could come out of this? I consider this a beautiful mental state to be in - ideally involving degrees of confidence rather than dogmatic certainty. Being open to new evidence, not being afraid of it - is eminently practical. Reality will be whatever it is, regardless of wishful thinking, and the closer our ideas reflect the truth, the more we can both appreciate reality and proceed appropriately. To be inspired and fascinated by the unknown, with the range of exciting possibilities that the unknown represents is deeply liberating psychologically, and is a state that I aspire to spend more of my time in.
Wonder: Rodin described the artist as anyone who loves their work. I think the love stems from a fascination, a desire to go deeper and understand more, to be able to use the results of exploration to achieve things we could not before. The artist who learns to identify a certain bony landmark is empowered by it - what was a mysteriously and perhaps awkard patch of tone on the model, becomes a useful reference that the artist can use and notate efficiently and keep coherent with the rest - and hence be a thing of beauty. Where the artist engages with the world with experiments in pencil or brush, the scientist does so through a process of practical experiment. Both then have the chance for analysis of the results of the experiment, which leads to expanded possibilities and opportunites.
Peak Performance: We are all animals - the function of our mind is limited by the health of our bodies. There can ultimately be no real barrier between the two: we are exquisite instruments of sense and processing of sensation into useful conclusions about the world, and the instrument must be both maintained and expanded with the right tools. Knowing how to get oneself into a state of peak performance, to engage in a flow experience is necesary for both the artist and scientist, as it is for any creative pursuit.
The life obsession: As Jemison points out, it is the identification of truths that unites Science and Art into one spectrum of investigation, even if the experience of the truth might be more literal in the former and pyschological in the latter. For the serious artist or scientist, I suspect that every aspect of life feeds back into their respective creative pursuits, every action is somehow related to their particular adventure of discovery, everything is a stimulus to learn more, a chance to once again enter a state of beautiful, proudly humble pasticity - an open engagement with existence.
Thanks to Luke, for the following post on the public discussion forum of Atelier Art Classes:
He links to two videos that can be viewed at:
How's that for stimulus for wonder?