Why Art Is Just As Important As Science

“Science makes the world easier to live in. But it’s art that makes the world worth living in.”

I’ve heard this comment (or a variation of it) a number of times over the past few years and it’s one I find myself returning to more frequently these days. Art and science have historically been viewed, for the most part, as distinct subjects. Yet when you start to look into it more closely, the reality is that incredible things tend to happen when the fields of science and art merge.

In fact, despite assumptions that the two are almost polar opposites, neither field has strictly defined boundaries in practice. However, within our education systems, we tend to view the pursuit of scientific learning as having greater value. I remember being told once by a friend that in school, science is taught – but art is (merely) allowed.

The reality is that at the intersection of both fields, science and art are able to influence and shape each other in incredible and valuable ways. Many people are well aware of the continual push to encourage students to take STEM subjects. But even whilst the issue of getting students involved in such areas is being addressed, another group are pushing further still, looking for such support to be expanded to the wider STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths).

The argument goes that in teaching  STEM subjects, students are working towards solutions that are already known. In many ways, science seeks to provide answers to question. Yet it is art that asks such questions in the first place. And it is precisely this innovative and creativity that is so crucial.

Interestingly, the evidence shows that some of the greatest thinkers have embraced creative disciplines – think of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. By bringing together knowledge from a variety of areas, advances are made. Evidence shows that Nobel laureates from the Sciences are 17 times more likely than the average scientist to be a painter, 12 times as likely to be a poet and 4 x as likely to be a musician.

And in today’s environment, this becomes even more important. As quick examples, think about how data is increasingly being visualised by talented information designers, the growth of 3D printing in art and the reinvention of music with technology. And there’s an argument that with each of us now having access to a vast network of shared knowledge online, we are all gradually becoming polymaths of a sort.

There’s a big reason Jonny Ive’s Apple was so massively successful and it wasn’t down to Steve Jobs alone. But of course it goes both ways. It would be impossible to deny that the art of photography, for example, has developed significantly with the impact of technology. And speak to any programmer and they will hold up the finest code as exhibiting similar levels of creativity as some of the finest classical works.

Specialisation within a closed ecosystem cannot possibly provide such valuable results as an open, inclusive network that actively promotes input from all directions. For this reason alone, it’s vital that we continue to support the development of those within the creative/arts sector as we move forwards into a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on technology.

I’ll wrap up with a TED talk from Mae Jemison back in 2002.

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