Art is Like Viagra for Science

by Idris Mootee

Art And Science Complement Each Other In All Forms Of Sense-Making. The Magic Formula For Innovation.

by Idris Mootee

Art is Viagra for Science“If you’ve never been lost you’ll never end up getting anywhere new”. That was a great opening line when Dan Widen tried to sum up his observations on day one of the event. It was the first time I met him in person and I must say I really like him. Not only of his achievement but his personal style of reflections. Also met with his colleague John Jay, also a great guy and honestly I was a little surprised to see them at the event, a nice surprise. I was expecting to meet with only scientists, artists and policy makers.

The STEM to STEAM workshop was hosted by RISD and funded by the National Science Foundation, the idea is to bring together thought leaders to come together to develop strategies for enhancing STEM education through the integration of Art and Design thinking. “STEM to STEAM pedagogy integrates a broad range of learning methods and learning ecologies from the empirical studies in the science lab, constructive critique in the design studio and creative discoveries in informal learning settings,” according to Dr. Pamela L. Jennings, Program Director, Computer and Information Science and Engineering, National Science Foundation. “Creativity and rigor are rewarded and STEM learning in formal and informal settings is transformed from ‘we have to learn’ to ‘we want to learn’.”

On my flight home, I was thinking, what is the difference between an artist and a scientist? Or the artistic process and scientific progress? This was the closing discussion we’re having on the second day of STEAM. It is never easy to have scientists and artists (I don’t know which group I belong to, I am a management scientist and an artist) sitting together to talk about the integration of art and science. There is no question that there were differences in opinions in terms of what’s the definition of an artist?

The commonalities seems to be that both requires extreme curiosity, certain expertise, experimentation and ability to deal with unknowns, and using various methods of inquiries etc. And the key differences the science progress requires validation and repeatability (other wise it is not a science experiment). On the other hand art can often be done as a one off. Art is more process oriented and science has more consideration for the outcome or goal-oriented (there are also a lot of science research that I don’t know what they’re trying to achieve). The process (may be process is not the right word) of art requires artists to deploy observational skill which allows them to see beyond the surface, recognize what the eye sees and interpreting them as they see it, and constantly experimenting with organizing colors, textures, patterns, shapes, space and form.

Artist is best in asking question and sometimes these questions seem to be irrelevant they are trying to make a point. And when art is applied in science, it is becoming part of the scientific process, it is a powerful subjective aid in enriching the objective world of scientific evidence. But when science is applied in art, suddenly it has become the “rapid prototyping of truth.” Instead of algebra equations and statistical charts or applying Multivariate Statistical Process Control when several related variables are of interest are collectively known, we can make a powerful piece of visual that brings all the data together added with a subjective richness to help viewers to see things otherwise they may not see. Art is like Viagra for science (or even for scientists) to help them to keep up with the crazy world out there.

Another interesting idea is for several decades, investigations into consciousness has always been a muddy area in the scientific community. Artists and designers have always believed that art can impact our phenomenological experience of the world – via our central nervous system – through artistic stimuli, which thrill, question and captivate, for centuries. The sensations from art, whether it comes from an art installation, a painting or a digital simulation can help us to experience the immediacy of the things happening (whether it is 50 years ago or now around us) and provide a truly phenomenological experience of our world. And thereby open a T1 connection into our consciousness.

I know a scientist/artist that uses her knowledge gained in biology to explore relationships between cellular form and function and she was showing people amazing visuals of how the double helix structure is telling us what makes us who we are – an example of science meets arts. When art infuses into science opens up possibilities for artists that have the scientific know-how to use scientific knowledge to create works of art.

I must say I very much enjoyed the event and I had the opportunity to meet with lots of scientists and artists and a lot of great discussions about the value of crossing over. Art and science provide a complementary way of making sense of the every increasing complex challenge around us, it allows data to have emotion and help us to see (and sense) the past and future. A healthy dose of subjective enlightenment can give scientific knowledge a richness and depth beyond that which our senses can perceive. They complement each other in sense-making which is really the comprehension of meanings, and projection of our future. And science cannot do it alone without art.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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  1. This is fantastic. I do believe in everything you say, and have been apllying it for quite a while in engineering University classes (Aveiro University, Portugal). I called it ArtScience (i organized a festival of one week of technical short movies and representations, based on students works). Right now i´m telling a story of that experience (called Nomad Minds) in the blog http://www.retalhosdavidadeumnomada.blogspot.com (version in english and portuguese). If you are interested. Right now four post were published and there are 10 more to go (once a week).

    In short, mixing Art and Science is a wonderful tool for teaching engineering and open minds. I´ve tried and it works.

  2. Interesting blog! Are you familiar with the Metaphysics of Quality?
    If not,you should consider reading the speech “Subjects, Objects, Data and Values” by Robert Pirsig; it concerns the central theme of the Einstein meets Magritte conference (Brussels, 1995), a meeting of art and science. Science is all about subjects and objects and particularly data, but it excludes values. Art is concerned primarily with values but doesn’t really pay much attention to scientific data and sometimes excludes objects. Pirsigs work is concerned with a Metaphysics of Quality that can cross over this division with a single overall rational framework.
    here’s a link to the speech: http://www.moq.org/forum/Pirsig/emmpaper.html

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