Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Intersections of Art and Science

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.  

Upcoming Blogathon Forum on the Intersection of Art and Science begins next Monday, August 10th.

For decades America has worshipped at the altar of science and technology.  Going back to the development of the atom bomb and the race, post Sputnik, to land on the moon first, the country has been obsessed with maintaining superiority in the sciences - from engineering and physics to biology and chemistry.  Our economic well being and future has long been seen resting in the citadel of scientific advancement.  And in the past decade, science -- as manifested in technology -- has governed not just our lives, but the whole planet.   The doubts, hesitations and angry rejoinders at the ungodliness of science by evangelical Christians and other religions across the nation and around the world notwithstanding, STEM is the rallying cry not only of business and government, but of education.

We have labored intensely to add the arts to make it STEAM - focusing our limited energies on the education field as a place we might have the maximum input in making creativity a part of the knowledge and experience that we in America, and the human species in general, will pin the nation's and humanity's future on.

In the past five years there has been considerable expansion of  the conversation about extant intersections by and between the arts and the sciences - and what might be possible in those intersections.  Indeed, there are growing numbers of university courses on the subject, increasing numbers of talks, seminars, meetings and summits that have as their theme the very subject of the arts / science intersections. And, increasingly the relationship between the two is being accepted and moreover, investigated, explored and embraced.  By and large scientists "get it", and understand full well the direct relationship between art and science and the potential in that relationship.  Very often, business and policy makers are the ones who gloss over the relationship's importance and fail to see and appreciate how each sector complements the other.

From the neurology of creativity, to the role of art in explaining and understanding discoveries and basic knowledge; from the spark of creativity's link to the development of theories of how and why the physical world behaves as it does; from imagination's role in innovation, to the effect of creativity on aging and health, the arts are increasingly intertwined with the various sciences and technologies.

Not all of the impetus for this sea change in the former siloization and compartmentalization of knowledge is coming from the arts and the creative people; it is coming from the scientists and technologists, from the engineers and the physicists - and we in the arts are learning that many of those people also don the hats of artists and creatives too.  Scientists and engineers are ever more frequently coming to the defense of the arts (click here for an article on scientists and engineers who rallied to the defense of the arts in the U.K. after an idiotic remark by education secretary Nicky Morgan, who said last year that choosing to study arts subjects could “hold [students] back for the rest of their lives”.

As far back as 2008, an article in the Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, concluded:

"Nobel laureates were significantly more likely to engage in arts and crafts avocations than Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences members, who were in turn significantly more likely than Sigma Xi members and the U.S. public.  Scientists and their biographers often commented on the utility of their avocations as stimuli for their science.  The utility of arts and crafts training for scientists may have important public policy and educational implications in light of the marginalization of these subjects in most curricula."
Indeed, the article opens with this:
"In 1878, J.H. van Hoff, who would become the first Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry (1901), proposed that scientific imagination in correlated with creative activities outside of science." 

And concludes with:
"The data shows very significant relationships between success as a scientist and evidence of adult arts and crafts avocations."

The relationship of the arts to the high tech computer revolution is easily documented.  From the Xerox PARC laboratory - where both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs saw the future of the computer and basically stole (borrowed) the design for the computer and the mouse interface, to Jobs' application of design and beauty as essential to the product - art and creativity were at every important step in the development of the technology that has changed the world.

In an interview by Linda Naiman with John Seely Brown the chief scientist for Xerox in the 1990's, when the PARC lab in what is now Silicon Valley was pioneering the technology that became the home computer revolution, Brown talks about the importance of the PAIR (Parc Artist in Residence) program at Xerox.

"There are three ways I look at [the impact of an art experience]. One is the notion that engaging in these types of activities evoke deeper responses, deeper emotions. It brings forth many of the tacitly held beliefs and assumptions that you have. So think of it as evocative of the tacit knowledge.
The second is that focused conversations are built and fused together around evocative objects that concern problems that the researcher has on his or her mind. I have said very often, it was the researcher that had the real problem, but the interaction with the artist actually made a big difference. Now that’s a complex interplay, ‘cause it takes over; it’s like a conversation that unfolds over many months.
The third concerns the power of simplicity. Simplicity prior to complexity doesn’t mean much. But simplicity, after you pass through the wall of complexity, after you have marinated in a fully nuanced reading of the situation and then rendering it in very simple ways is extraordinarily powerful.
And so, my favourite saying is that “Picasso can say more with five lines than most of us can say writing an entire book.” Picasso does not traffic in commas, and parentheses. When you’re doing a painting or sketch, you do not have qualifiers. You have to be crystal clear about matters, and that’s one of the beauties of art as a primary language, primary in that you can’t make caveats and qualifiers around everything. Also note that the image you construct is meant to be an evocative object for both you and others. You’re conversing with yourself as well with others."
Today, there are artists and scientists pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery and artistic understanding yet further in complex ways.  Click here, for example, where Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin explains the development of the AlloSphere, an immersive 3D environment that allows scientists to experience their data on a sensorial level.  Experiments are happening all over in the intersections of art and science and we have just begun to scratch the surface.

Walter Issacson, Steven Jobs biographer, in a 2014 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson lecture noted about Einstein:

"His mother, an accomplished pianist, also gave him a gift at around the same time, one that likewise would have an influence throughout his life. She arranged for him to take violin lessons. After being exposed to Mozart’s sonatas, music became both magical and emotional to him.
Soon he was playing Mozart duets with his mother accompanying him on the piano. “Mozart’s music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe itself,” he later told a friend.[ix] “Of course,” he added in a remark that reflected his view of math and physics as well as of Mozart, “like all great beauty, his music was pure simplicity.”[x]
Music was no mere diversion. On the contrary, it helped him think. “Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or faced a difficult challenge in his work,” said his son, “he would take refuge in music and that would solve all his difficulties.”[xi] The violin thus proved useful during the years he lived alone in Berlin wrestling with general relativity. “He would often play his violin in his kitchen late at night, improvising melodies while he pondered complicated problems,” a friend recalled. “Then, suddenly, in the middle of playing, he would announce excitedly, ‘I’ve got it!’ As if by inspiration, the answer to the problem would have come to him in the midst of music.
He had an artist’s visual imagination. He could visualize how equations were reflected in realities. As he once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
We are only beginning to explore and understand the relationships between art and science and the many levels on which those relationships operate.  The highly fertile field of arts and aging / healing is but one aspect of the arts / science intersection, and this arena is critically important to us.  Indeed, I suspect that in the not too distant future, we won't describe the relationship between the arts and science as an intersection - two separate and diverse disciplines that occasionally cross at various points - but rather parallel lanes that share the same highway - working in tandem as the norm.

The subject fascinates me, and it equally fascinates Bill O'Brien, the Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Chairman at the National Endowment for the Arts, who has been at the forefront in our field in exploring the subject.  Click here for an article authored by Bill in LiveScience.com last year.

Bill and I have been working at organizing a Blogathon Forum on the subject of the Intersection of the Arts and Science, and last month extended invitations to a half dozen people in the scientific / arts field to join Bill in responding to five questions, the answers to which I will post on this blog, one per day, beginning next Monday, August 10th.

Here are the panelists who accepted the invitation:

Rieko Yajima -  American Association for the Advancement of Science

Young Moo Kim - Scientist / Musician and Director of Drexel's ExCITe Center

Julia Buntaine, editor in chief of "SciArt in America"

Kamal Sinclair - Co-Director of Sundance's "New Frontier"

Lucinda Pressely - the Innovation Collaborative

Gregory Mack - American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science and Technology Policy Fellow, National Science Foundation

Bill O'Brien - Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

I hope you will follow along next week as this distinguished group of leaders working at the intersections of art and science talk about the future of those intersections and what they mean.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit