Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blogathon on the Intersections of Art and Science - Day 5

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on………………."

Reminder:  Please send me your nominations for inclusion on this year's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential leaders in the U.S. nonprofit arts.

Day Five Question:
How might potential advances in the intersections of the arts and sciences benefit both fields and society in general, both short and long term?

Youngmoo:  Dissolving (or at least re-thinking) traditional barriers between (and within) science and the arts in education through STEAM learning will enable a variety avenues to careers in both the sciences and the creative and performing arts. We can't predict what careers will be in demand 20 years from now, but we do know that our children will benefit from being creative lifelong learners able to adapt and integrate knowledge across many disciplines. Furthermore, it’s increasingly apparent that innovation is enabled through a variety of pathways— including the design of physical artifacts, the visualization and manipulation of multi-dimensional and multi-media data, the development of computer code, and the creation of artistic works—enabling individuals to express their ideas using tools as diverse as the ideas themselves. We must continue to improve our practices for multidisciplinary learning to facilitate arts+science collaboration in order to provide the foundation for future innovation, collaboration, and discovery.

The arts have developed, over millennia, practices for creating and conveying human expression. Understanding the processes through which creative expression has evolved can greatly inform future directions in science and technology. Perhaps the most widespread impact of art+science collaboration will be in terms of personal expression. Emoticons and Emoji symbols have emerged to fill the expressive void in text-based media. These workarounds not only indicate the widespread desire for more expressive channels, but also highlight the importance of art in conveying expression. Through the confluence of art and science (and technology), I imagine a future in which people are able to more naturally express their ideas and intent to one another, regardless of the channel or distance.

In the long term, I hope for greatly improved communication and knowledge dissemination within society. Too often, we speak to only those in our disciplines and don't realize how far afield we've gotten from the general public. And yet, more and more discussions about policy, resource allocation, and governance absolutely depend upon a basic understanding of a field (global climate change being perhaps the most prominent example). In some ways science is experiencing what arts funding went through in the 1980s, which must be overcome through better communication. Greater understanding facilitates empathy, which lays the groundwork for a more active, vibrant, and just society.

Bill:  Perhaps an example from the past could provide us with clues on how promoting these synergies might impact our future.  Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel’s book “The Age of Insight”, describes how Viennese life at the turn of the 20th century provided opportunities in solons and coffee houses for scientists, writers and artists to converge, inform and transform each other’s work.   Schnitzler’s writing and the paintings of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka advanced progressive attitudes in that time and place around things like the social and political liberation of women.  Their back and forth at the salons also helped shape Freud’s theories (just as his theories influenced their art), which ultimately lead to the birth of psychoanalysis. Before they met, it would have been impossible to imagine the form and nature of all these advances being made across culture and medicine.  It’s also hard now for us to imagine short and long term advances that might come to pass if we improved the ability for people working at the forefront of art and science to collaborate more effectively.  But wouldn’t it be great to find out?

Lucinda:  By fostering the intersections between the arts and sciences, both of these fields and the individuals within them will be enriched. For, as neuroscience points out, it is through looking through different lens that we understand at a deeper level, opening up possibilities not only for innovation, but also for individual brain development.

In the short term, these intersections offer opportunities for positive impact on each discipline - from education to industry to individual growth. In the long run, the advances in these individuals, in institutions, in education, and in industry will result in a leading, resilient, and highly innovative and productive society.

Julia:  This gulf between the arts and sciences has gone on for too long – it creates an atmosphere of distrust and prejudice from both sides, and apathy or confusion for those outside of them. This has been a problem since the end of the Enlightenment, when unity among disciplines was considered to be critical to maintaining a healthy human condition.

The interaction of art and science can only benefit our culture. As science is reinvigorating art, pushing it out of its post-modern haze, science needs art to help reconnect with the public. While statistics and projections are not naturally relatable, art is made for the public, and it is through the arts that more people will engage with science in a meaningful, personal way. Not that all art should be about science – art has always been about what is culturally central, and the more science advances the more applicable to daily life it has become. Hopefully in the short and long term this will lead to artists and scientists working together for both their own and mutual purposes. 

With a public that understands science better - cares about their own health, the health of our planet, our future in space, the origins of our universe, the mysteries of consciousness, and the like - our society will be able to face the 21st century situations that require transdiciplinary approaches. Should the team we first send to colonize Mars include experts from the humanities to ensure there are books on bookshelves, paintings on walls, and Shakespeare performed every Martian Friday? Should the new berm-building measures being taken to fight rising water levels around city edges include a budget for muralists to enhance the aesthetics? These may sound like silly questions, but if no one asks them, we’d be left with a blank, utilitarian world. Likewise, art needs science in order to advance because art has always benefitted from new knowledge and technologies produced by science. Picasso read books on mathematics and Dali read works by Freud. What if the Picasso’s and Einstein’s of today did more than read each other’s books and look at one another’s paintings? Again, the possibilities are endless.

In thinking about all of this I’m reminded of the infamous Voyager spacecraft that we launched in 1977. Voyager carries with it a golden record containing pertinent information about us and our planet. The double helix, diagrams of anatomy, animal sounds, and a map of our solar system are only a few of the numerous scientific data points that we provided to our potential alien receiver. But we also gave them Bach, Chinese chants, and Chuck Berry – because all of that, and more, is who we are. 

Gregory:  Both the arts and the sciences have a creative process. At the very least, it is beneficial for each to realize how the other utilizes its tools and methodologies to result in an outcome, and this is something that can easily happen in the short term. Each field brings a different perspective; leaps in innovation often come from viewing a subject in a different way. New insights can be reached by seeing how someone else outside of your field tries to understand it. These sorts of benefits are more long term. A new hybrid-like mindset can start to form once more collaborations and investigations take place, allowing for a different way of thinking and resulting in advancement of the fields sparked by these new perspectives.

Some of science’s preconceptions that are hard to shake are that it is stark, isolated, and robotic—the opposite of humanity and community. The arts can help to give a social context to science, to bring in the humanity to connect with those in society who don’t call themselves scientists. Similarly, art has a troublesome preconception that it is too ethereal and disconnected from reality. For those in society who don’t call themselves artists, science can help to bring a context they can relate to or that can ground them in the experience. More understanding of the nature and ideas in each field can be reached, especially by those outside the field. 

These investigations expose each field to new audiences—it exposes science-minded people to the arts, and likewise exposes arts-minded people to science. (By “audience” I mean those who would normally pay attention to an event or product, such as scientists going to a science lecture and dance patrons going to a dance performance.) I argue that this not only allows for greater reach of the desired outcome of the investigation but also enriches the members of the audience who experience something more than they would have normally.

This broadening of the audience for each field may also lead to an increase in typically underrepresented groups in each field, broadening the types of those who participate. More people of different backgrounds may be brought into each field by 1) being made aware of it and 2) seeing there is a place for them in a way they may not have seen before. Also, if there were a steady integration of arts and sciences throughout all education levels I believe there should be a positive effect on learning with students benefitting from the perspectives of each side. I can imagine a future where it would no longer be out of the ordinary to have these investigations and each field would be enriched by these continual experiences.

Reiko:  I’d like to think that one of the by-products of working with people in different disciplines is that it will make us more empathic individuals.  It will give us practice in developing greater capacity to see an issue from multiple points of view.  And that in turn will help us engage people we may disagree with on important policy issues.  Issues that can divide us, but are so critical that they affect us all – for instance, how do we address different cultural and value systems to live amongst each other or how do we ensure that people around the world have access to the benefits of scientific and technological progress.  

That concludes the Arts / Sciences Intersections Blog Forum.

I would like to thank all the panelists for their taking the time from their busy schedules to share their insights and thinking on this topic of keen importance to the nonprofit arts, and in particular, special thanks to  Bill O'Brien at the Endowment for helping me to organize this blogathon.  I am deeply appreciative of the panelist's participation in what I think has been an excellent beginning discussion of a complex topic that will very likely grow in importance to both the science and art sectors.  

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