Art and Science

About two months ago, shortly after setting up ArtBioCom, I had my name cards printed in a neighbourhood shop nearby. While I was waiting for my order to be processed, an auntie sitting next to the counter – I don’t think she was working there, just the resident kaypoh – picked up the test print and commented that I had “an interesting job.” She was the first to comment on my chosen designation of “Artist, Biologist, Communicator”, but her next sentence was typical of many people’s reactions since then: “Most people who are good at art are bad at science.”

I realised that she was referring to the school subjects, not the practice of art and science. And there, she may be right – our science exam results depend more on our memory capacity than our creativity, so artistically inclined people may or may not do well in school science, depending on other factors such as interest and inclination.

In contrast, the practice of science – the business of pushing back the frontier of knowledge – actually involves a great deal of creativity. Scientists do have to follow a prescribed set of procedures and principles to ensure objectivity and reproducibility of their results (the so-called Scienctific Method), which may seem quite rigid. But within those rules, there is plenty of room for unusual, new and surprising ways of approaching a problem – creative ideas for what to look at and how to look at it that will eventually, using the Scientific Method, lead to new insights. In fact, without such original, out-of-the-box thinking, there wouldn’t be much progress in science at all.

So creativity, for one, is common to artists and scientists. The two share another trait in their aim to improve our understanding of the world around us. While scientists have to do that in a very objective and rational manner, artists usually take a much more subjective approach. But essentially, both provide us with new perspectives on the world that might give us new insights to help us deal with our surroundings.

Of course, there are vast differences between a scientist’s realm and that of an artist; science’s need for reproducibility and its concept of getting closer and closer to the truth about reality are diametrically opposed to the individuality and divergent nature of art, which is not bound to “reality” in a physical sense. But these are procedural differences, variations in approach; the essence of art and science, to me, is the same: a quest for new insights.

As a result, I see no major clash between art and science. Granted, they operate on different levels, and with different consequences, but there is no reason a single person cannot practice both. In fact, many scientists I know (and some great scientists I know of) are talented artists – it’s just that they are usually too busy with their science to become great artists as well.

6 Comments

  1. saufen
    Posted 25 December 2007 at 21:22 | Permalink

    Andy, one name will silence the skeptics: “Leonardo da Vinci”

  2. Posted 27 December 2007 at 21:57 | Permalink

    Hi Dr Giger! =>

    I won’t say I am like you, but I’ve always wanted to combine my love for photography with my passion in Science communication.

    Glad to have known you and I’d always remember what you said to me during my interview: “You cannot expect to change people’s mindsets (on Science) overnight.”

    By the way, I’m with NEA now, in RCD.

    Take care!

  3. Posted 28 December 2007 at 15:52 | Permalink

    Well said Andy, though I feel that room for creativity in science is very limited because Mother Nature rules, and also because scientists in the past have already thought of a plethora of ideas that have been tried, tested and failed long before I even entered the scene.

    I’m really curious to know how you became an artist and science communicator, which is a very uncommon career choice indeed.

    Have a great New Year 2008!

  4. Andy
    Posted 2 January 2008 at 17:54 | Permalink

    LH, I agree that scientists don’t have the same kind of creative freedom as artists. But maybe that makes coming up with an original way of approaching a problem all the more rewarding. Where’s the thrill in doing something new if there are no constraints to what you can do?

    As for other researchers having tried everything already, I guess that depends on your research field; If you are exploring how honey bees perceive visual pattern orientation (like I did for my PhD) there’s a lot that nobody has ever tried before… But once you’re done, don’t expect to find a job doing the same thing… ; )

    For some hints on how I became what I am, you may want to have a look at my biographic timeline.

  5. Posted 3 January 2008 at 13:54 | Permalink

    Hi Andy, I’ve checked out your biography (great design!) and see that you have a wealth of experience working in various fields. Looking forward to your career insights in future posts!

  6. Posted 21 August 2008 at 12:26 | Permalink

    Hello, I am a Ph.D. in Microbiology. I am an artist too. The themes of most of my paintings are based on science. I was shocked when one artist told me nobody wants to see my kind of work. But I am determined to walk the path I have chosen. I am glad to see at least some people in this world appreciates art work based on science. You can see my work on my website kkartfromscience.com.