Science and Art – a Natural Partnership or Two Very Different Fields?

In my last post I explained the main aims that I have for the Fellowship that I am currently on; if you missed that, then in basic terms I want to explore how science and art can come together to improve the way that members of the public engage with science.

Since that post I’ve had lots of conversations with wonderful scientists, researchers, science communicators, and members of the public (Canadians are probably the friendliest people in the world, but Canadians in coffee shops are a whole new level of friendly), about the relationship between science and art, so I wanted to try to capture some of those thoughts in a blog post. Mainly I’m writing this as a way to keep track of my own thoughts around this topic, but I’m also interested in hearing your thoughts to – leave a comment below or send me a Tweet if you’d like to join the conversation!

My initial thoughts about the potential relationship between the fields of science and art started a really long time ago. In my early teenage years I wanted to be a graphic designer, I had dreams of setting up my own business, just like my Dad had, and spending my days steeped in creativity. After a couple of years that no longer sounded like a viable career for me; I did a GCSE in Art & Design and got a grade A, but even the process of doing a GSCE in the subject felt like too much pressure for me. I loved being creative, but being creative under pressure (in this case exam conditions) was not something I enjoyed at all – the pressure made me feel claustrophobic and my usually creative brain was suddenly unable to think as usual.
That realisation was a tricky one; I clearly wasn’t cut out to be a working designer where the pressure was not exam conditions, but bill paying and you know, life. I thought about other careers including law, medicine and surgery, my grades were decent and the options presented to me by careers advisors at school were a reflection of that. None of those really interested me and it took me a few months of trawling through university prospectuses to find the course I wanted to do – Pharmacology (the science of how drugs act on the body). I still wasn’t sure where I’d go career-wise, but I figured getting a science degree would give me some options, and I liked the sound of the topics that would be covered in the Pharmacology degree program at the University of Aberdeen.

During the years of my undergraduate degree I didn’t do much art, I made jewellery sometimes but I didn’t feel like I was being creative very often at all. Now when I look back, I was being creative all of the time; but I’d been taught throughout years of education that creativity meant activities like drawing and painting. I was writing all of the time, I read daily, and I was solving problems in almost every aspect of my degree – all tasks that require creative input. I was being creative, just not ‘traditionally’ so.

It’s not just me that has thought this way. Towards the end of last year I took part in the ‘I’m A Scientist‘ online event with school children across the UK. Lots of them were asking questions about careers, what our favourite subjects were at school and whether that linked in with what we were doing now. My favourite subject was Art & Design, and it took those kids asking questions of me to realise that I use creative skills every single day in my job. To me, science is inherently creative, I just hadn’t realised it because my teachers always presented science and art as opposing fields; you were good at one or the other, not both.

I guess this sort of thought process came from the myth of the left brain/right brain.

Image credit: Maggie Wince ‘Left Brain / Right Brain’

From a blog post written by Robert H Shmerling MD from Harvard Health Publishing:

“Those who are right-brained are supposed to be intuitive and creative free thinkers. They are “qualitative,” big-picture thinkers who experience the world in terms that are descriptive or subjective. For example, “The skies are gray and menacing; I wonder if it’s going to rain?”
Meanwhile, left-brained people tend to be more quantitative and analytical. They pay attention to details and are ruled by logic. Their view of the weather is more likely, “The forecast said there was only a 30% chance of rain but those cumulonimbus clouds will probably bring thunder as well as rain.””

I’m not going to go into the depths of scientific research that discount this thought process, instead I want this blog post to be a way for scientists to be reminded that they are creative people, and for younger readers to understand that it’s absolutely fine (and actually very helpful) to think creatively in the world of science.

Note: If you are interested in learning about the science behind this left brain/right brain idea, I saw that Samantha Yammine (you may know her as Science Sam) plans to cover this on her Instagram over the coming weeks. Follow her here and keep an eye an her Instagram stories and feed.

The reason why I’m passionate about exploring how art can be used to engage the public with science is because of these experiences; I never thought I would be a scientist because I thought that I was a ‘creative’ person; someone expressive and emotional (ask my boyfriend, I can be pretty dramatic if I’m hungry/too cold/too hot). I am expressive and emotional, and I’m a scientist too; I think that those qualities make me a better scientist. Lots of the conversations that I have had over the past week have included scientists echoing that sentiment. Infusing science with creativity means that conversations about science, and scientific issues, are encouraged within and between groups of society outside those that they may reach with traditional forms of science communication. It’s no use trying to have a conversation about a scientific issue that could impact on everyone, if there are huge sections of society not being invited into that conversation. I believe that creativity is one way to ensure we’re at least inviting every part of society to that discussion.

What do you think; if you’re a scientist, would you describe yourself as creative? If you’re not a scientist, then what do you think of this idea of sparking conversations about science with creative practices?


More information on the idea of science and art working together can be found by clicking the links below:

Artists and Scientists: More Alike Than Different
Why Art and Science are More Closely Related Than You Think
Art for Science – Science Communication Through Art
Why Researchers Should Use Art to Talk Science
Scientists are More Creative Than You Might Imagine
Exploding the Myth of the Scientific vs Artistic Mind

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One thought on “Science and Art – a Natural Partnership or Two Very Different Fields?

  1. Jennie F

    I had the same realisation during my degree about creativity and science, more so when studying for my MSc sci comm though as it made me reflect on what it’s like to be a scientist. This realisation got even stronger as I watched my boyfriend undertake a PhD in machine learning and sepsis which is incredibly creative! All through my degree I was into art and I still am! That’s also why I’m so pleased that SciArt is a thing and i need to get more involved in it!

    Like

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