Art and Science: a common core?

A friend forwarded a couple of links to me recently about the relationship of science and art and particularly the dynamic that exists between them.  The pieces, one inspired by the other, set a number of thoughts running.  The first was the importance for many scientists/researchers of the scribbled conceptual diagram – in fact I have note books full of them.  Cartoons of reality that help researchers articulate arguments, scope concepts and summarise complex ideas.  In this sense art is a route to clarity of thought which is essential for good science writing, or at least in my humble opinion.  I can hear you questioning whether such cartoons are actual art – scribbled on the back of meeting agendas, squeezed into the margins of note books, on the back of drafts of papers – but I would argue that they are and their elegance in conveying ideas and thoughts process is as real and striking as any painting.

The pieces also made me think about how in the last 18 months I myself have embraced art as a painter.  Until recently I had never painted before in my life but took it up after turning out a half decent picture while painting one day with my boys.  Self-taught through the use of you-tube video clips, websites and a lot of trial and error I have advanced rapidly and exhibited a couple of my pictures last summer for the first time and have got to the stage where I am now brave enough to hang them on my office wall.  It provides me with what a colleague recently described as ‘flow’ relaxation and an hours painting of an evening has done wonders at placing life in better focus.  In fact I would go as far as to say ‘a painting a week keeps the doctor away!’  My art is inspired by my love of landscapes – mountains, hills, ice, snow, the artic and mountaineering in general – the same things which inspires my science and for me the linkage is clear and my art is simply an extension of my love of imagination, ideas and innovation the life blood of good research.  I would be interested to hear what you make of the blog posts in the two links below as well.

6 Responses to “Art and Science: a common core?”

  1. Simon Thompson

    Matthew – For some time, I have advocated the benefits of Art and Science in research, and so it was with pleasure that I read your recent Research Blog. I come from a line of painters, though I do not have the skill myself so admire others’ work. Although, not strictly “art” as in painting, I published a paper on “Art meets Science” advocating the need for “creativity” in the International Journal of Arts and Sciences, 2012, which I have sent you via email. With best wishes, Simon Thompson.

  2. Stephen Bell

    An interesting area of discussion Matthew, which due to the particular route through art I have followed has fascinated me for a long time.

    It is refreshing to read an acknowledgement that the different ways of exploring existence reflected in scientific and artistic approaches may be seen as complementary rather than antagonistic. One of the things that I have come to be very concerned about recently is the idea that engagement in art as an artist has to be (re)presented as research to (re)gain respectability in an academic context.

    As to sketches and scribbles, the process of abstraction and external presentation in order to reflect upon the effectiveness of imagined forms used in art and science may indeed be seen as a common area of engagement. The issue of the effect of the aesthetics of scientific practices and how they influence the reception of theories, theses, etc. are perhaps not acknowledged very often. If scientists engaged more in conscious exploration of the aesthetic they might become more aware of that aspect of scientific engagement and be able to reflect in an informed way upon its significance.

    Regarding the enjoyable, I assume some scientists enjoy some aspects of scientific practice – field trips, experiment, etc.. and find others taxing to the point of generating personal challenges to selfhood. When artists push the boundaries of what it is possible to conceive and embody in a work or works it can indeed sometimes be enjoyable but, it can also lead into areas of non-conformity that demand considerable commitment, application and risk (both personal and social). I wonder whether scientists have that in common with artists. It would be interesting to know if it is so.

    One last observation, I gather that the title ‘scientist’ was based upon the model of ‘artist’, so perhaps it is not so surprising that we may have some things in common.

    • Stephen Bell

      The C.P. Snow ‘Two Cultures’ argument was more about literature and science and part of quite a local debate as I read it, but it was latched onto by many people who found that using the term was a neat way to sum up their understandings and prejudices. Often I have found people treating it as a given that the argument, which was addressed originally to a few scholars applied generally across the board. I often wonder just how many people actually read the transcript of the lecture.

  3. Catherine Angell

    I very much agree with your comments. I have some links with Cape Farewell, a charity which takes expeditions of scientists (my husband is the lead scientist so this is a rather vicarious association on my part!) and artists/musicians/comedians (generally very well known and productive ones!) to the Arctic to discuss and observe features of climate change. The aim is for the artists to present ideas to the public in an accessible way and the scientists to spend time viewing the environment through a different ‘lens’. A number of pieces of work, such as Ian McEwan’s book Solar, have emerged as a direct result. It has been hugely successful and when it first began really pioneered the importance of linking science and art.

  4. Adrian Newton

    Marvellous to see this issue being discussed. I’ve been active as a (sonic) artist for many years, but had until recently kept these two halves of my life completely separate. In effect, I viewed time producing art in my spare time as an escape from the professional world of science, but since picking up a few commissions, that distinction became blurred. Then I started to realise that the key approach to art, being creative, is actually something crucial to science as well. They are, after all, different but perhaps complementary approaches to understanding. Perhaps they provide different insights into truth and meaning. I now sometimes try to get into the same mental space doing science as when doing art, to help stimulate left-field thinking and to generate random connections. My biggest privilege, though, has to work alongside some full-time professional artists, who I’ve found can often get into this creative mental space much more easily than I can. So maybe its an approach that has to be learned rather than just being viewed an escape from something different. But the biggest lesson I learned recently was from a talk by Satish Kumar, which I attended. He started by saying that we are all artists, and all our work should be viewed as a form of art, and as a source of joy. He used the example of doing the washing up as an artistic process, and something to take pleasure in. This has revolutionised my approach to household chores! For a Hindu like Satish, art, science and life all amount to essentially the same thing.