The Overlap Of Science & Art – Will Jennings, Tuesday Thoughts

I recently took a Philosophy course called Aesthetics which is all about the nature of beauty and art. For whatever reason, the class was stacked with Engineers, Mathematicians, and Physics majors whose knowledge of art did not go past the Renaissance. They view art as created by someone in a cabin in the woods, or a musty attic, or sitting on the shore. As something a genius created in isolation. Similarly, I attended a discussion on the importance of digital documentation where a young artist about my age said something like, “Well doesn’t all of this documentation require a different sort of mind?  I can’t help but think that this is beyond the creative soul of the artist.” Since elementary school I have been told that science and art require very different skills and it is difficult to be good at both.

This notion that there is a wide gap between the scientific process and the artistic process is so widely accepted and so very incorrect. The scientific process is disciplined, procedural, and takes place in a community to build off one another’s work to try and further human understanding. As someone who studies and observes theatre, it seems absurd to think that theatre is different.

Will Face

I’m sure there are artists that work in isolation. They sit in the quiet until “inspiration” hits them and then they create.  However, all of the artists that I would call “good” artists do not wait for “inspiration.” They set aside time each day to practice their art. They sit at the piano and play until new music comes out. They sit at the computer and type until they’ve produced a valuable sentence or paragraph. They set aside time to work just like a mathematician practices derivatives while learning. I’m finding with directing that I’m becoming more and more able to create aesthetic experiences for audiences – if I move a body in one way and adjust the voice than I know it will have an emotional impact on the audience. This comes with discipline, it doesn’t take “artistic genius.” Additionally, as artists become accustomed to creating, they become increasingly procedural. Actors and singers have warm-ups. If they don’t take their appropriate steps to create, their product will suffer.

Most importantly, artists do not produce in a vacuum. It is impossible to create art without context. The more I learn about some of my favorite artists the more I realize how much they are influenced by outside sources, mostly other artists. Every single musician is affected by other artists; there is nobody who created an entire genre by themselves. Some of the first Jazz artists who were some of the most creative individuals basically changed some Classical European chord progressions. People change things, but nobody is working from scratch. Artists watching, listening to, and experiencing other art is a way of filtering out what we deem to be “important” art, which is how we know what we want to create.

This is remarkably similar to the tradition of scientific enquiry. Art is viewed as the more “creative” and less “disciplined” area, but in practice I think it depends more on the practitioner. Some of the best art has been created by scientists and some incredible breakthroughs in engineering and science have been due to artists. The disciplines are not as different as many would have you think.

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