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.