Saturday, May 5, 2007

Art • Science • Balance

Art • Science • Balance

With some exceptions, science and art are perceived to be two separate fields today. So separate that it is sometimes claimed that the 2 entities are in conflict. But are they?

In olden times, people routinely did both (Leonardo!). It means that the 2 aspects can live together in one person. So why is it perceived differently today? One could blame, of course, the educational system. In the US at least, the educational system glorifies verbal, math, and logical thinking and neglects art, different opinions, and creativity. Consequently, art classes in schools are always canceled first. So, no wonder that we tend to think that science, engineering, and technology are “über Alles”.

Restricting the mind to one mode- the logical, the linear, or the left brain mode, leaves a big portion of the brain unused. From my personal experience, I know that the two modes, the left and the right ones, can live together harmoniously. There is no conflict between them. Each one could simultaneously do its part of the needed work resulting in an integrated rich outcome.

Luckily, yes luckily, the ascent of visual media- film, TV, comics, and computer games, and the like- has helped to further develop the visual and creative capabilities of our society. We can use some of these provisions to do things, and the action of doing would further understanding.

Along this line of thought, some of the technical conferences, in particular, SIGGRAPH, the prime computer graphics annual conference, bring both artists and techies together at least on the exhibit floor. CHI, the largest conference on human-compute interaction, will have its 2008 annual meeting in no less than Florence, Italy, and has already chosen its theme to be “Art • Science • Balance”. Here in New York City, The New Yorker Conference/ 2012: Stories From the Near Future plans to have “the right brain meet the left brain” in “a dynamic day and two nights of new ideas, forward thinking, and eye opening innovation”.

Any other ideas of how to create this much needed balance?
Left and right brain modes (separately or together) are welcome!


Anonymous said...

I think I completely understand this challenge and need for balance. One could say, I have always been an artist, technologist, and educator that “didn’t fit.” All of my life, I wanted to develop new technologies for children. I began my interest in technology as a graphic design major at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was there that I began working with computers for graphic design in the early 1980s. It was also there that my professors began questioning whether I should be using computers. They suggested my work was more concerned with the tool itself than the actual artwork I created. Therefore, instead of giving up on computers, I went to the MIT Media Lab to try to understand them. As a Masters student, I became involved in developing new technologies for children. My thesis focused on how computers could be brought into a child’s world in the form of a large stuffed animal and sensors. By 1987, I had completed my thesis but questions still continued. Many of my professors asked, “If you make computers for children, why don’t you have an educational background?”

It was not until four years later that I would try to answer that question. This time it was as a Ph.D. student at the University of New Mexico’s College of Education. It was there that I thought I could finally round out my education and truly understand the diverse aspects of making new technologies for children. But again, I did not fit in. The program I found myself in was much more focused on how to teach with technology, than with what the technologies should be for teaching. When it came time for my dissertation, I realized that the one thing I knew most about was “not fitting.” Therefore, my dissertation focused on “The MEDIA Program: A Multidisciplinary Education for Designing Interactive Applications.” I created and taught a year-long cohort program where students at all levels in education, computer science, and art could learn about creating new technologies that could support innovative learning experiences.

Thanks to these personal academic challenges, one of my primary goals as a professor in teaching and research has come to be creating multidisciplinary educational experiences that can support the creation of new technologies. I have found a wonderful home at the University of Maryland where I can bring people together from diverse disciplines to learn together and learn from each other. I have found that these multidisciplinary opportunities can supports paths for change in our educational experiences and the technologies we make for education.

Schmooz said...


Thanks for sharing with us your personal journey. I am also a person that routinely does not fit in (many times willingly). Likewise, I've found that this is a great source of creativity and of strength in pushing the limits. All within the law, of course!

John said...

Interesting. Into the mix, I might add my own personal experience with the school system. I have always liked drawing and painting. While I was typically praised and encouraged in math and science and told I was good at these things, in the first grade, all of us went to the front of the room with pictures we had colored and the teacher said mine was just average. I felt devestated. It was certainly the Zeitgeist that one was either born with artistic talent or not and I was definitely in the NOT category. Later (about 50 years later), I took a five day course from Betty Edwards who had a quite different philosophy. She said that if you could see and had enough coordination to sign your name, you could learn to draw by learning some specific skills. In other words, she had what might be called a scientific or at least analytic approach to teaching the skill of drawing and indeed, I did learn to draw, for instance, human faces which I had never been able to do.

Schmooz said...

I had similar experiences. I was at least told that I do not have a talent to write and I knew that I do not have the ability to draw as well as some other kids who seemed to be born with it. Later, I learned by myself how to write reasonably well and learned to apprecaite art. So, I knew I am visual, but do not know how to draw.

Then came CHI 1996. I attended Betty Edwards' talk there and after a few months took her course. Everything was changed that week...

I asked Betty, if drawing is just a skill, where is the art? She responded: "Not everyone who knows how to write is a poet". So, I am trying to take it some steps further to become a real artist- without losing me logical skills!

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